The New Ebola?

By Mikaela Tenner Source: Gawker Media

A little over a year ago, the world was sent into a panic over the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Central Africa. Warnings were given, travel restrictions were imposed, and the World Health Organization was sent onto the ground to confront the issue. One year and nearly 12,000 lives later, the most affected countries were declared nearly Ebola-free in fall of 2015. However, over the past few weeks, the world has seen an outbreak of yet another threatening virus, the Zika virus.

The first case of the Zika virus was identified in Brazil in May 2015, and since then, it has spread to twenty other Central American countries. Additionally, on Feb. 2, the first case of the virus was identified in the United States. The virus becomes noticeable primarily in pregnant woman, and causes birth defects in their children. Even if a woman is not pregnant when infected, if she gets pregnant within a few years of contracting the virus, it can still affect her children. In the seven months since the initial outbreak, the virus has spread to twenty more Central American Countries. Common symptoms of Zika virus include fever, rash, headaches, and red eyes, although close to 80 percent of people who have the virus will not exhibit any symptoms. The virus is said to spread from person to person through mosquitos, and is of the same strain of disease as Yellow Fever and West Nile Virus. However, one recent case revealed that the virus can also be spread through sexual activity.

Prior to this past Tuesday, only two cases had ever indicated that the Zika virus can be transmitted through sexual activity. Hospital officials in Texas confirmed that a female patient had been infected with the virus after engaging in sexual intercourse with her husband after he returned from Venezuela, a country infected with Zika. Although the Center for Disease Control expects that the virus will continue to be spread through mosquito bites, they warn partners to use protection if they have recently traveled to Central and South American countries. Currently, there is no knowledge of whether or not the sexual transmission of the disease will continue, and at present, there is no known cure for the disease.

On Monday, the World Health Organization convened in Geneva, Switzerland to declare the Zika virus a public health emergency. During the Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization was consistently criticized for not having a quick or thorough enough response to the disease, an issue they are now seeking to avoid with future public health concerns. It was not realized for months just how serious the threat of the virus was, and there is worry that the same problem will apply to their response to the Zika virus. If they do want to prevent another outbreak, then they will need to act within the next few weeks, before the threat becomes even more ominous. However, despite recent efforts to increase the search for a cure to Zika, research into the disease does not currently receive a large amount of funding. Frequently, the diseases that receive the most funding are those that kill the largest number of people, and since the Zika virus traditionally only harms an unborn baby, it has not been as high of a priority.

On Feb. 3, GOP lawmaker Chris Stewart called for federal funds previously allocated towards Ebola research to be re-directed to Zika research. Although Ebola research is equally deserving of the funds, currently the Zika virus seems to be more of an imminent threat. Furthermore, researchers have been discovering over the last few weeks that the disease may be more far-reaching than they originally thought. Researchers have linked Zika to the condition of microcephaly, a disorder that leads to a small head size and underdeveloped brain. If there is not soon more funding for the disease, then this may soon become commonplace in the infected regions. Although Zika may not seem as threatening as Ebola, or some other recent health concerns, it is a rapidly-spreading disease that could have serious future implications.