Elizabeth Helmkamp- Staff Writer
The Olympic Games may be over, but the problem of the Zika virus is not. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) documented various cases in parts of Florida and all the US territories, and cases have shown up all over the United States as an after-effect of travel. The virus, primarily detected in North and South America, has also been found in a few of the Pacific Islands.
So, what exactly is Zika?
Zika belongs to the family Flaviviridae, which includes yellow fever, dengue fever, and West Nile virus. All of these viruses are RNA-based, which means that they take over a cell quickly by directly hijacking the protein-making systems.
These viruses are often transmitted through ticks or mosquitoes. According to the CDC, the Zika virus is transmitted by an infected Aedes mosquito, which can also be infected with dengue fever. There are over 3000 species of mosquitoes in the world, but this is the only species which transmits Zika.
To an adult, Zika is not very threatening. Any symptoms experienced would be mild, such as those of a head cold.
The Zika virus only becomes threatening when it is passed from mother to child. In a developing fetus, the virus interferes with the development of the brain, causing a condition known as microcephaly. This fact explains the widespread scare that the virus causes.
No medication or vaccine can currently counteract Zika, so prevention efforts are mostly focused on mosquitoes. In addition to the CDC recommending that people wear bug spray, long sleeves and pants, local governments in areas affected by the virus are also using pesticide spray to control the populations of mosquitoes and removing places for the mosquitoes to breed.
Recently, many people have been worried that these efforts will harm the environment. However, the pesticide is used in small amounts and degrades quickly, not staying around long enough to pollute the water or degrade the soil. The pesticide doesn’t kill all the mosquitoes in the population, so the insect population eventually does recuperate and the ecosystem is not harmed permanently.
However, if a method of controlling a population does not kill all the members of a population, natural selection will allow those surviving members to pass on their immunity. In the near future, mosquitoes may likely develop a resistance to the pesticides currently being used.
No permanent solution to the challenge posed by the Zika virus exists, but scientists continue to work towards a better one. For now, we can and should remember those affected by Zika in our prayers.