Photo by Hans Eiskonen.

Zika Virus on the Move

Let’s cut through the noise to take a look at Zika.

Concerns about the Zika virus are growing fast, with stories appearing in the media on a daily basis. This virus, as we described in our previous post, has been known for several decades. But a few weeks ago it was first suspected to cause birth defects in babies born to mothers with the infection. Ever since then, it has become a hot topic of public discussion.

The virus, which is transmitted via mosquito bites, has been identified in many countries including the US, and now in Australia too. However, these Australian cases have been of travellers returning from the Americas, and not people infected locally. The concern in Australia is mostly centred around tropical North Queensland, where the mosquitoes transmitting the virus can be found.

A worrying prospect is that Zika virus might be able to move between humans without the aid of mosquitoes. If that turns out to be the case, such as in this suspected case of Zika virus transmitted through sexual contact, then it may become a much bigger concern.

Just to keep a sense of perspective, we should bear in mind that the virus causes little or no illness in the majority of people. This is not Ebola or smallpox; the problem isn’t that people will start dying in their thousands. What public health authorities are trying to do is to contain the virus and prevent it from spreading across the world and becoming a global problem.

Another thing to bear in mind is that some of the apparent spread of the virus may not be due to the virus itself moving quickly, but to the fact that we’ve now begun to pay more attention to it. Since December 2015, authorities throughout the world have heightened their detection and reporting of Zika virus cases.

Remember too that all of this alarm is about a virus that is still much, much more benign than established infectious diseases such as malaria, yellow fever or dengue fever, which get very little media coverage, yet they have been killing hundreds of thousands of people every single year for a long time now.

We’ve seen these pandemic warnings before, and they seem to be coming faster and faster every year. SARS, Avian flu, Ebola, MERS, Chikangunya, and now Zika .

This can be explained by a combination of factors — not only are we travelling more widely than ever, but we’re also delving deeper into the jungles and exposing infectious organisms that we’ve not encountered before. And the warming of climates around the world means that more areas are now susceptible to tropical diseases.

We will keep you up-to-date with medical insights as events unfold.

Originally published at 05.02.2016.