Zika virus ravaging parts of South America and Asia is believed to be transmitted by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, with symptoms later giving way to yellow fever, dengue fever, chinkungunya and also Zika.
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But the more scientists rally together to know more about Zika virus the more they find paucity of evidential information about the infection, putting them at a disadvantage to a disease said to be linked to neurological disorders and birth defects in newborns - the Sacramento Bee reports.
Zika virus was first discovered on Yap Island in Micronesia, a remote island in the western Pacific Ocean, in 2007, and researchers sent to investigate the outbreak reported the strange and unknown sickness created flu-like symptoms similar to dengue fever among others. The researchers also observed sudden onset of rash, joint pain, red eyes, with no significant evidence of hemorrhagic fever.
“We didn’t have any idea that it was Zika virus,” said Lt. Col. Mark Duffy of the U.S. Air Force, one of the lead physician researchers dispatched to investigate the mystery illness. “There was just a paucity of literature that was out there.”
Scientists consider Zika a sleeper virus because symptoms do not often show in infected persons – with an average of one in five persons showing symptoms. Prior to 2007, only 14 cases of the diseases was documented in Africa and Asia and reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009.
Blood samples of patients from Micronesia were sent for analysis at the CDC, and this was when it was confirmed that there had been an outbreak of Zika virus in the region. A joint research effort between the CDC, the Pasteur Institute, and the World Health Organization (WHO) later revealed that the disease has jumped borders and spread to South America and the Caribbean, leading WHO to declare it an international emergency.
The problem however is that lack of adequate information and available tools make it difficult to conduct scientific research into how the disease spreads and whether it is truly behind birth defects and neurological disorders as have been reported in recent times.
Scientists are finding it pretty difficult to diagnose the disease in the field because there is no diagnostic tools or specific treatment for it, and it is not wholly clear if it is only transmitted by mosquitoes since an incident reported recently in Texas indicated it could also be transmitted through sexual contacts.
“We’re all steep on this dreadful learning curve,” said Elizabeth Talbot, a physician and infectious diseases expert at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine. “There are a lot of negatives, and there are a lot of unknowns right now.”
Only epidemiological research that combines cohort and case-control studies would be needed to prove the link between the Zika virus and birth defects, and to also work on prevention and treatment. These scientific efforts might also include ecological research and case investigations which some agencies have started to undertake at the moment.
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But until a breakthrough is made in fully understanding the disease and knowing how to prevent or treat it, Talbot advises that “Pregnant women should try to postpone travel to the affected regions. We have confidence in that recommendation.”