The mosquito-borne Zika virus has spread an epidemic over the South American nations with serious cases of birth defects being reported across many countries.

b’A health worker fumigates the Altos del Cerro neighbourhood as part of preventive measures against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in Soyapango, El Salvador | Source: Reutersxc2xa0′
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, January 19, issued travel guidelines for doctors caring for pregnant women during the Zika outbreak, a mosquito-borne illness linked with microcephaly marked by unusually small head size and brain damage. The travel alert applied to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Here is all you need to know about the epidemic which is rampaging South America, the United States and the Caribbean Islands:

b’A health agent collects blood from a child with a new test kit that rapidly diagnoses three different mosquito-borne viruses in Sao Paulo, Brazil | Source: Reuters’

What is Zika Virus?

  • Transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also known to carry the dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya viruses, Zika virus was first reported in Uganda, Africa in 1947. The symptoms are not peculiar and include  fever, sometimes a rash, conjunctivitis and headache. Occasionally it causes a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome which is seen after an infection.
b’A health agent uses a new test kit that rapidly diagnoses three different mosquito-borne viruses in Sao Paulo, Brazil | Source: Reuters’
  • In South America, the presence of Zika virus was first detected in Brazil. As it has been found that the virus spreads at an alarming speed, several countries of Latin America thus became affected.  
  • The first case was registered in Brazil in April 2015. Since then the nation witnessed an epidemic where thousands of affected cases were registered. Babies were born with unusually small heads and the link of microcephaly with Zika virus was established. As per a World Health Organization (WHO) report, there were 2,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly  in December 2015 in Brazil making it the country with the highest number of cases.
  • According to Pan-American Health Organization, Colombia ranked second to Brazil with 13,500 people affected.
  • 5,397 cases of the Zika virus were detected in El Salvador in 2015 and the first few days of 2016.
  • India has not yet been hit by the virus but there is no commercially available test to specifically detect this virus called Zika. There is no cure for the illness caused by the virus.
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 increase in the number of cases since the new virus was first detected last year in Brazil. This is a significant advance, but we still cannot scientifically state that Zika is the cause of microcephaly,” said Jean Peron, an immunology expert who is experimenting on pregnant mice at the University of Sao Paulo’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences.

b’A Brazilian soldier searches for signs of mosquito larvae in a pool in Sao Paulo, Brazil | Source: Reuters’


 a genetically modified mosquito has been developed by Oxitec, the U.K.-subsidiary of U.S. synthetic biology company Intrexon which has helped in reduction of the proliferation of mosquitoes spreading Zika and other dangerous viruses in Brazil.

(With inputs from agencies)

(Feature image source: AFP)