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The Zika virus and the unprepared world

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Illustration by: Karina Herrera | Staff Photographer

The Zika virus is the world’s newest example at just how unprepared people and countries are in the face of a new medical threat.

A virus is an organism that finds a living host and replicates itself inside those cells, causing someone to fall ill. To this day, there is no known way to cure a virus.

Some viruses, like the flu, can be vaccinated against or treated with things like medicine and rest until the body becomes immune to that strain. Viruses like Ebola are much harder to treat. If not caught and treated in time, the person with the virus will most likely die. These are just two examples of widely studied and treated viruses with still no cure.

The Zika virus is different. Up until recently, this virus had received very little attention. There has been very little or no research being done on how to treat or what long-lasting effects it has on people.

Countries where it has been most prevalent, like Brazil and El Salvador, have told the women of their country to refrain from being impregnated for at least two years until a treatment is found. This is just one example of unpreparedness. Numerous countries in South America have made abortion illegal and access to birth control almost impossible.

Pregnant women with Zika will bear children that can be born with microcephaly, which is an unusually small head. This condition, depending on the severity, will cause these children to require special care for the rest of their lives.

Originally only spread by mosquito bites, we now know this virus can spread through sexual intercourse. It was also only found in tropical regions of the world but now has in America and countries as far away as Spain.

A typical infection is fairly mild. According to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 20 percent of people infected show any signs of the virus. People who do exhibit symptoms might not know they have been exposed to the virus because of how nonspecific their symptoms may be, which might include a rash or fever along with joint or muscle pain.

While Zika is already linked to microcephaly in infants, infected adults may be at an increased risk for Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Guillain-Barre is a syndrome that causes the body’s immune system to attack the central nervous system.

Most countries are at risk of their citizens becoming infected and potentially passing the virus on to their partners or unborn children. Furthermore, there are no cures or preventative measure in sight.

The virus is a stumper. Scientists all over the world are not sure what the long-term effects of being infected are. Will all people who are infected eventually become immune to all strains? Will infected people, once the virus becomes dormant, pass it on their children? How will the infection affect people years later, possibly neurologically?

No one knows for sure because no one saw this coming. No one saw this coming because of the lack of research being done on known viruses.

The Zika virus is an example of people not paying attention until it is too late. Let this potentially mild-mannered virus be an example of where money and time should be going. Let’s learn from this virus before something worse comes for us.