Zika is not the problem: Rio’s real health crisis

The Rio 2016 Olympics have started, with weeks of controversy and worry about the health risks surrounding it. The Zika outbreak has been seriously impacting Brazil in the months before the games began with some olympic athletes pulling out due to the risk of health implications. Zika is transmitted by the Aedes mosquitoes, known for carrying other vector based diseases including yellow fever. The disease itself is not very dangerous with symptoms such as headache, conjunctivitis and muscle and joint pain lasting approximately only a week. The infection is also easily treated, with patients often prescribed rest with plenty of fluids. So what is causing the huge worry concerning the Zika outbreak?

The answer is two conditions that are being linked to the virus, the less deadly of the two is Guillian-Barre syndrome which causes temporary paralysis of the infected party. The major concern is Microcephaly; a potentially deadly condition that occurs in the unborn children of Zika infected pregnant women.

Microcephaly is characterized by a newborns smaller than average head size, denoting the underdevelopment of their brain, often it can be so severe the child is unable to regulate vital life functions. Brazil had 4700 reported cases since 22 October 2015 and despite the link between Microcephaly and Zika only being “strongly suspected” the autopsies of deceased Microcephaly newborns showed the presence of the Zika virus in their brain and in placenta and amniotic fluid as well.

Reducing the risk of the Zika virus and its complications is a more difficult battle than other recent outbreaks such as Ebola and yellow fever, because the solution is not putting people on the ground; but understanding the link between Zika and Microcephaly, how they communicate and the creation of a vaccine or treatment for Zika in an attempt to stop them working together; reducing the ability of Microcephaly on the pregnant population of Brazil.

So, you have no need to fear Zika, for have to fear the unknown that surrounds it; its not the first pathogen that has caused so much trouble due to humanities lack of understanding. Ebola was forty years ahead of doctors and scientists when the outbreak began and the time it took to catch up resorted in scientists treating the pathogen as if it was a completely new disease it had evolved so much. This is an important point in advocating for more research into viruses and other diseases that are prominent but unknown.

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