Some time has passed since many of us were first made aware of the Zika virus, which may cause a disease leading to birth defects in children, and the issue has shown no signs of slowing down. As more research is being carried out into the Zika virus and its effects, it’s important to understand what the current situation is, the risks and what research is being done to understand, and hopefully cure this devastating virus.
Zika in the headlines
The Zika virus continues to be a key feature in our health headlines, with scientists reporting that its consequences could be ‘far worse than previously thought’. Whilst currently, the microcephaly found in newborns (which causes them to develop small heads and developmental issues) seems to be the clearest result of the virus, researchers now believe there may be other, less visible consequences too. With the link between Zika and microcephaly still unconfirmed, research continues to inform our understanding of the true extent of the virus.
Fears around the Zika virus have caused people to cancel their travel plans and question whether sporting games should be moved. Many have also expressed concerns over the summer Olympics, due to be held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in August this year. However, authorities expect the epidemic to have abated by this time, as this is Brazilian winter time.
Hope for a vaccine
The spread of the Zika virus has been slow outside of the already affected regions. Researchers in the country hope to have a vaccine available by September, fast-tracking the process which usually takes decades to complete. If a link between Zika and birth defects in children is confirmed, the vaccine would then be offered to expectant mothers and those of child-bearing age, in the hope that the virus could be wiped out in the same way that rubella was back in the 1960s. There are other international efforts towards finding a vaccine for Zika including research in France, whilst emergency funding is also being considered to aid research to find a cure.
Long term consequences of Zika ‘unknown’
Whilst advances towards a vaccine are being made, other areas of Zika research are focused on finding out the extent of its consequences, and as yet, the long-term effects of Zika are unknown. We know that children born with microcephaly behave in the same way as other children, but as they get older, it is believed that they could go on to develop different disabilities involving their vision, hearing and other physical disabilities, with no cure for the condition. One of the doctors involved in the research, Dr Rasmussen, told NBC News: “We really don’t know what will happen with these kids long-term,” whilst others have explained that the condition can be difficult to diagnose in newborns, and may not be apparent until further along in their development.
Further information on Zika
Whilst the headlines surrounding Zika are alarming, there is plenty of information available to provide you with travel advice if you are at all concerned. Whilst the UK’s climate puts us at a low risk of a Zika outbreak, there are warnings that some destinations in the US and southern Europe could be at risk. For more information, Fit For Travel and the Government have useful resources to help you make informed decisions regarding your travel plans.