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Why Are We So Afraid of Zika?

Why Are We So Afraid of Zika?

The mosquito-transmitted virus Zika did not emerge from nowhere, but it seems that way, given the insane speed with which it has spread through the Caribbean and the Central and South America as well as through people’s consciousness over the past month. The post-Ebola world that is not yet fully healed from the latest epidemic outbreaks faced both a tragedy and a wake-up call. The new old virus of Zika decided to remind us that we are still not ready to respond adequately and effectively to emerging pandemics.

On Fer. 1, at an emergency committee meeting in Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of the virus “a public-health emergency of international concern.” This is an extremely rare designation that has been previously given to the H1N1 swine flu in 2009 and the Ebola outbreaks in 2014. But this time, the deadly virus makes many health experts worry in earnest.  

At the beginning of the year, Brazilian officials did not seem to take the disease seriously, but Zika appeared to be not the virus we could ignore. The current massive outbreak was officially reported past May in Brazil, South America, and it took the world by surprise. The pathogen was linked to birth brain deformities in babies and may be a lot more harmful than anyone thought. The virus has already infected a million people in Brazil, and it is set to conquer much of the Western Hemisphere this year. According to the WHO, as many as four million people all over the world could be infected by the end of the year. Zika is extremely dangerous and poorly studied. Moreover, there is currently no vaccine or cure for the illness.

It is not a naturally human pathogen as far as scientists know, says Andrew Read, an entomologist and senior scholar at Penn State University. Zika has jumped from something and is now spreading to humans. Every country in which Aedes mosquito, the transmitters of the disease, are present can be at high risk for the spread of the virus.


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