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Causes of the Zika Virus Spread

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Published: Mon, 14 Aug 2017

A worldwide epidemic of the Zika virus has plagued the Pacific Islands, the Americas, and some African and Southeast Asiatic countries. Currently, Brazil holds the highest record of Zika virus-positive cases in Latin America which have devasted and terrified the nation. The World Health Organization (WHO), an organization of the United Nations (UN), has announced Zika virus infection as a newly arising disease to be managed and also a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)(Gulland, 2016). In general, Zika virus is a single-stranded RNA virus of the genus Flavivirus which is also related to other flaviviruses such as dengue virus, yellow fever virus, West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis virus (Lanciotti RS, 2008; Scaramozzino, Crance, Jouan, DeBriel, Stoll, & Garin, (2001)). Clinical complications namely, the Guillain-Barre syndrome, congenital syndromes, miscarriages, and even death have been correlated with Zika virus infections. Zika virus is not a new virus. In fact, it has been discovered and documented more than 50 years ago. Only recently, it has gained unparalleled attention and has created such global alarm by the global health community.  The first human illness caused by Zika virus infection was first recorded in 1953 in Nigeria (MacNamara, 1954). By September 2015, investigators in Brazil saw an increase in the number of infants born with microcephaly which is one of the clinical complications linked with Zika virus infections. By mid-February 2016, over 4300 cases of microcephaly had been recorded (Victora, Schuler-Faccini, Matijasevich, Ribeiro, Pessoa, & Barros, (2016)). The question that now reflects in people’s mind would be, “what are the causes of the spread of Zika virus mosquitoes?” There are many causes of the rapid dissemination of this virus, but the more major reasons are the carriers of the disease, the abundance of breeding ground, and climate change.

Firstly, the main reason for the spread of this virus would most evidently be the mosquitoes infected with the Zika virus. Not all mosquitoes act as carriers but the predominant vector responsible for the spread is the yellow fever mosquito or in scientific terms, the Aedes aegypti mosquito which is also a primary vector for the transmission of dengue throughout the globe. According to Dasti, before the outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil, distribution of Aedes aegypti has been predicted across different continents. Based on the entomological data available, it is shown that high concentration of this species in Brazil might be the main contributor to the outbreak and also the rapid dissemination of Zika virus infection across the country (Kraemer, Sinka, Duda, Mylne, Shearer, Barker, & Hendrickx (2015)). Fortunately, the Aedes aegypti mosquito does not tolerate colder climates and is currently limited to tropical and subtropical regions of the globe (Brown, Evans, Zheng, Obas, Barrera‐Martinez, Egizi, & Powell, (2014)). There are also other potential species of Aedes mosquitoes which can also transmit the virus such as Aedes furcifer, Aedes metallicus, Aedes africanus, and Aedes hensillican.

Another cause of the outbreak is the abundance of breeding grounds which plays a significant role in the reproduction and spread of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which are the primary carrier of the Zika virus. In the past 50 years, there was an explosion in the number of plastic containers which have created an abundance of ideal larval habitat for the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Residents in countries that has little awareness and education about the importance of hygiene and sanitation have taken their cities and towns for granted and have caused their community to be a perfect breeding ground for Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Troncoso has identified several containers such as bottles, bottle caps, buckets, basins, empty tin cans, puddles, pots, barrels with water, containers on the roof to collect rainwater, tanker, used tires, and other artificial containers that can hold water (p. 522). Troncoso has also discovered common city areas with high concentrations of people such as bus stations, parks, and schools are potential sites for mosquito breeding (p. 522). Breeding sites for Aedes mosquitoes can be found all around the house also. Female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes lay eggs in water stored containers, which creates the opportunity for breeding. Furthermore, according to Alcides, cemeteries can also be considered as an excellent location for breeding of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Results of over 30 studies from the last decade related to mosquitoes in cemeteries have been published. In general, “cemeteries are very suitable habitats for mosquitoes” that thrive in artificial containers given the broad availability of sources they need. It is recommended that getting rid of unused containers and daily change water trough for animals and vases can reduce the risk of Zika infection (Ayorinde, Oboh, Otubanjo, Alimba, & Odeigah, 2014). Any stagnant water could be a breeding ground for mosquitoes and majority of them are caused by man (Kilpatrick & Randolph, 2012; Vasilakis, Cardosa, Hanley, Holmes, & Weaver, 2011).

Besides that, climate change is a crucial factor that can worsen the spread of the Zika virus. The Zika epidemic further proves that climate change is beginning to affect human health. According to the United Nations (UN), the rise in temperatures enhances the breeding and transmission of the Zika virus. The worsening climate increases the frequency of natural disasters all around the world which can be more devasting to countries with a poorer infrastructure (Troncoso, 2016, p. 521). According to Troncoso, the transmission of infectious diseases such as dengue or Zika is sensitive to climatic situations (p. 521). The ever changing climatic environment which includes temperature, humidity, rainfall, and soil humidity can affect the viruses that are transferred by insects (Brady, Golding, Pigott, Kraemer, Messina, Reiner Jr, & Hay, 2014). Warming of tropical and sub-tropical climates has improved the condition for Zika carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to breed. Climate change has amplified the health risks of the poorest people, who are vulnerable and in jeopardy from the significant increase in disease by the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Human activities such as massive deforestation and dam construction have caused the extinction of natural predators and changed the biodiversity which has increased the risk of exposure to mosquitoes. Residents of countries which have tropical or sub-tropical climates and have difficult access to health care “will suffer the most severe consequences” (p. 522) of this disease (Johansson, M. A., Dominici, F., & Glass, 2009). Consequently, as Troncoso (2016) confirms, climate changes is a “potentially very important factor.” that can bring new epidemics of Zika and even the risk of a pandemic worldwide (p. 521).

In conclusion, evidence has shown that the outbreak of the Zika virus is the consequence and mistakes of our improper handling in the past, also with the current environmental factors. Unfortunately, the current generation has to suffer the adverse effects of the spread of this disease. Zika virus is a major global health problem that has already spread to different regions on Earth and is anticipated to spread more rapidly given the fact that the virus can be transmitted sexually and by mosquito bites. The global health community has a responsibility to research and develop a solution to solve this problem as we have little knowledge about the virus. For the meantime, people should take extreme precaution when traveling to countries which have significant cases of Zika virus infection. Carrying the disease back home would be the last thing you want to do.


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