What is the Zika virus? How harmful is it?

The Zika Virus is a member of the Flavivirus family – a family that includes the viruses that cause such diseases as West Nile Encephalitis, Yellow Fever, and Dengue Fever.  Mosquitos in the Aedes genus are known for spreading many of the Flaviviruses, and this type of mosquito is fairly common in North America (especially in areas that tend to be warmer and more humid).

And as recent reports have stated, the virus has been found to be transmitted by other means (e.g. sexual contact).  The viruses are also similar in that the majority of people who actually contract the pathogen rarely manifest any serious signs or symptoms (which may include mild fever/rash, and head/joint/muscle pain that may last for several days).  But in some people, more serious complications, often affecting the nervous system may result.

What makes Zika Virus unique is that is appears to have a much greater potential to act as a teratogen – an agent that can affect embryonic development in a pregnant woman.  Even though an infected mother may show mild (or even unnoticeable) signs and symptoms, the virus may still harm the developing fetus, especially if exposure happens early in the course of the pregnancy.

Anything that is typically used to prevent the spread of West Nile (e.g. prevention of mosquito breeding, etc.) should also reduce the spread of Zika Virus.  And as others have said, this does have the potential to make its way  to the Midwest fairly easily.  Let’s face it, many in the mainstream press love a good outbreak story – especially if you can spice it up with pictures of microcephalic newborns.  But with conscientious application of existing measures to prevent mosquito breeding and feeding, I believe that the potential threat can be greatly minimized.

About Dr. Jim Rago

Dr. James Rago is Professor of Biology at Lewis University. His professional training lies primarily in the realm of clinical microbiology which led to his current research interests. Dr. Rago studies the prevalence of strains of Staphylococcus aureus in various clinical settings, as well as the antibiograms and genetic properties of selected isolates. Dr. Rago also works in collaboration with faculty from the Chemistry department to assess the antimicrobial activity of silver-coated titanium dioxide nanoparticles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *