By Clarissa Schaffino
Microcephaly is a rare condition where infants are born with unusually small heads and consequently have problems with brain development. This condition has not been widely studied but can have severe ramifications later on in life. Microcephaly is believed to be caused by a number of things but today there is a concern regarding the Zika Virus. This virus is transmitted by a vector mosquito and produces minor symptoms for its host. This virus is believed to have come from Africa in the early 1940’s (Tavernise, 2016). Today, it is affecting many pregnant women in Brazil and other regions of the Americas. Those who have had this virus are now seeing microcephaly in their newborn babies. This is a rising concern due to the large number of incidence. Zika virus has not been proven to cause the condition of microcephaly but there appears to be a strong link among the two and major health players are stepping in.
Little is known about the exact transmission of Zika virus. It was previously thought that this virus was only caused by mosquito bite; however, new cases in different regions suggest that there are other transmission pathways. According to an article in the New York Times, new cases of Zika Virus in the United States suggest that “Zika virus” is “possibly being transmitted by sex” (Tarvernise, 2016). A report from Live Science, confirms this theory by stating that there are cases that “[provide] even more evidence that the virus can be transmitted through sex” (Rettner, 2016). A report on a man who contracted this virus states that “follow-up tests for the virus” were “conducted” and “it could still be found in the semen 62 days after the man’s illness”. This news is alarming because women now have to protect themselves for a period that is longer than 30 days and they may not have access to the proper protection methods such as “condoms or contraception” (Tavernise, 2016). Also, the “testing of semen may be difficult” (Rettner, 2016). This could cause problems because we are not entirely sure how long the virus remains present in fluids; therefore, we do not know when or how long women should refrain from pregnancy.
Another major concern is strict abortion laws in Brazil and in other countries (Romero, 2016). Women who are getting pregnant with Zika virus and do not wish to bring the baby to full term are not being permitted to get abortions. I believe that this will have a big impact on this specific generation of children being born. Women should have the choice in bringing a child into the world. A child with severe developmental problems may not live a life as beneficial as a child without these problems. This condition will also impact the healthcare system due to cost of care for an infant with severe developmental problems.
Treatment methods for this virus are still being researched. A vaccination may prove to be the best preventative option for women who are pregnant. However, there is some stigma against vaccinations and pregnancy. Women may not feel comfortable getting a vaccine during their pregnancy because of fear of hurting the fetus. Eradication may be more difficult than we imagined. Education on safe sex will also be a major tool in fighting the spread of this virus. We have to develop more treatment methods and have more education on safe sex practices. Currently, STI’s are still spread in large numbers.
Ultimately, this problem is going to take time to fix. This virus has the potential to cause major dents in the public health field. There are many different moving parts in regards to this virus and its consequences. Zika Virus is spreading fast through South America, Central America, and now to the United States. If not stopped now, we will be seeing the effects of this virus for years to come. I would recommend this topic to women who are considering pregnancy. This is a major concern because as of now there are little ways to combat the virus. Learning about this topic has opened my eyes to the many different avenues that a virus can impact. Zika Virus is not just a virus that affects a host but it is also a virus that has effects on an infant, on the healthcare system, political system, and global and local public health systems.
Below is a video from the New York Times that discusses the Zika Virus:
Rettner, R. (2016, February 12). Zika Virus in Semen Provides More Evidence of Sexual Spread. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.livescience.com/53704-zika-virus-semen- sexual-transmission.html
Romero, S. (2016, February 3). Surge of Zika Virus Has Brazilians Re-examining Strict Abortion Laws. The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/04/world/americas/zika-virus-brazil-abortion- laws.html
Tavernise, S. (2016, February 23). C.D.C. Investigating 14 New Reports of Zika Transmission Through Sex. The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/24/health/zika-virus-sexual- transmission.html?ref=health