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A Virus Causes Tragic Birth Defects 

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    Imagine you are on your dream vacation with your loved ones, enjoying some relaxing time before your baby is born in a couple months. Now imagine that you just had a baby and waiting for doctors to tell you that your baby is healthy and beautiful, but instead you hear them talking amongst themselves, asking each other what needs to be done now? The doctor comes forward and asks you if you have been on a trip in the last couple of months? You think back to your relaxing trip to southern America and say yes. He tells you that unfortunately your baby is born with a birth defect caused by virus, most likely because you had a mosquito bite while on your trip. This specific virus is spread mostly by mosquitoes and is known as Zika. It can also be spread through sexual contact with an infected person. If a pregnant mother becomes infected with this virus, she can pass it to her baby during pregnancy or at birth.

    The virus was first found in Uganda, and it has been rapidly spreading to other countries. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 5,746 symptomatic Zika virus disease cases have been reported in the United States. In 2015, Brazil observed a 20-fold increase in babies born with abnormally small heads, a birth defect called microcephaly. Some countries have also seen an increase in a nerve disorder that causes paralysis. Most people who get the virus do not get sick. About 20% of infected people show mild flu like symptom that usually start 2 to 7 after being bitten by an infected mosquito. These symptoms include a fever, rash, joint pain, and pink eye. Even though the virus causes flu like symptoms in adults, it can have long term effects in babies. Some babies may not show the congenital brain defects at birth, and symptoms may manifest themselves later in life as the baby’s head growth is slower than normal. Babies with microcephaly will require care from different types of healthcare providers and caregivers as they age. Unfortunately, there is no treatment, cure or vaccine for zika virus. Drinking lots of fluids, resting, and taking acetaminophen may help the flu like symptoms.

    The only prevention is to avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent, wearing cloth that covers your arms, legs and feet, staying in places that have air conditioners or screens. Due to multiple outbreaks of zika virus in different countries and its irreversible consequences in developing fetuses, in 2016 the World Health Organization, announced zika virus and its complications as a public health emergency of international concern. Since 2016, scientists all around the world are working to better understand this virus to be able to design a vaccine to protect unborn babies against these tragic birth defects. As mentioned before, currently there is no vaccine in the market, however, there are multiple vaccine candidates in the different phases of trials that are offering hopes to the public.


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