Health officials in the US are actively pushing for the development of vaccines for the prevention and treatment of the Zika virus, in light of the ongoing outbreak.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been quoted as stating that the situation requires no less than “all hands on deck."
The New England Journal of Medicine has recently described the situation as an “explosive pandemic, potentially threatening the United States.”
The Zika virus was brought to the public’s attention in December 2015, when Brazil declared a state of emergency.
Over 2,700 babies were born with a birth defect known as "microcephaly," which is characterized by incomplete brain development.
Brazilian health authorities believe the cases are linked to the recent outbreak.
They suspect the Zika virus is being transmitted from infected mothers to their unborn children.
This causes the birth defect. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to detect the virus until after the baby has been born.
As of January 23, 2016, the number of microcephaly cases in Brazil has risen to 3,893.
This unusual national crisis has caused some Brazilian health officials to go so far as to recommend families temporarily delay their plans to conceive.
There are currently no effective means of preventing the increasing rate of this type of brain damage within the population, and there also seems to be no way of treating the disorder.
Currently in the US, microcephaly is uncommon.
It occurs in roughly two to 12 per 10,000 newborns.
In Brazil, there are suspected cases in approximately 1 percent of all newborns in the worst affected areas.
The number in 2014 was 150. It has now gone up to 3,893. This marks an increase in the number of cases by 2,495 percent.
This type of microcephaly is called primary microcephaly.
It is diagnosed in newborn children who have an abnormal occipitofrontal head circumference.
It develops during pregnancy and results in the infant being born with an unusually small head and impaired brain development.
This disorder is also linked with numerous other conditions, such as seizures, developmental delays and intellectual problems, among others.
This is a lifelong condition. There is no cure or standard of treatment.
The recent surge in microcephaly is strongly suspected of being associated with the Zika virus.
The virus has been found in the amniotic fluid of two women whose newborns were diagnosed with microcephaly.
However, a direct causal link has not yet been scientifically established.
In response to the Zika virus outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a travel advisory warning.
The affected areas include the Carribean, Central America, South America, Mexico and Puerto Rico; that's 22 countries in total.
These travel advisories currently recommend that pregnant women consider postponing travel to these affected areas, due to this potential link.
The Zika virus -- originally discovered in 1947 in Uganda -- is an arthropod virus.
It is native to insects like the Aedes mosquitoes, which were responsible for the initial transmission of the virus to humans.
According to the CDC, only about one in five individuals who are infected with the virus become ill. Deaths from the virus are rare.
The symptoms are similar to the dengue virus.
The symptoms typically present themselves as fever, rash, headache, muscle pain and conjunctivitis.
However, more serious disease symptoms have been noted, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome. This causes muscle weakness, and may even result in paralysis.
The syptoms of the Zika virus usually last a few days to a week. There are currently no available treatments or vaccines, other than rest and fluids.
It’s suspected that the recent spread of the Zika virus in Brazil is in part due to two significant events that have taken place in the past few years.
In 2014, the FIFA World Cup and an international canoe racing event in which only Pacific nations were represented, attracted many tourists to the country.
There have also been cases of transmission via blood transfusion or sexual relations.
The CDC has stated that, although there have not been any documented cases of local transmission in the US, travelers who contract the disease and return to the US may end up locally transmitting the virus in some of the continental states.
In fact, the virus has already been identified in some Northeastern states.
On January 22, 2016, New York State confirmed three positive cases of the Zika virus, which were likely contracted by individuals who had traveled to some of the affected countries.
Officials have stated that the chances of it spreading locally are low due to the inability of the virus to get transmitted via casual contact. The winter weather conditions limit mosquito activity in the area.
Ultimately, more research and investigation is required into the Zika virus’ transmission and effects, in order to accurately determine if the rise in microcephaly is directly caused by perinatal infection.
If so, this alarming outbreak has all the potential to remain headline news for quite some time.