Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus from the same family as yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, West Nile, and Japanese encephalitis viruses. Zika virus is primarily transmitted to humans by infected Aedes mosquitoes. Reported Zika outbreaks in humans had been limited in size until April last year, when the virus was reported in Brazil. Since then, cases have been reported in many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Who's At Risk
Although anyone can contract the virus, the greatest threat is to unborn babies. Medical professionals strongly suspect that there is a link between microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies and Zika infection in their mothers whilst pregnant. The number of those at risk increases in correlation with the population of Aedes mosquitos. Countries in South and Central America with tropical climates are currently in their dry season: as they enter the rainy season there is likely to be an increase in the size of mosquito populations, which may raise the overall risk of Zika virus.
How It's Treated
There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine available. The best protection against Zika is prevention, which consists of reducing mosquito bites through the use of mosquito nets, insect repellents containing DEET, and clothing that covers the skin. Good sanitation and hygiene measures in the home, covering water tanks and stopping water from collecting both inside and outside the house, is also essential to reduce mosquito breeding. For this reason, poorer communities lacking in water and sanitation infrastructure may be more at risk from the virus.
What Save the Children is Doing
The apparent surge in cases of microcephaly is extremely alarming. Save the Children teams are carrying out assessments across the affected region. Our priority is to educate people about the Zika virus and minimize infection. It is crucial that pregnant women in particular understand how the virus is transmitted and how to prevent mosquito bites. We are also looking at adapting our existing water and sanitation programs to help limit breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Our El Salvador country office is currently promoting discussions with health and community volunteers so women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are aware of the risks the Zika virus carries.