Going full circle: Can Zika virus be Ebola 2.0 for Africa?
If the Zika virus went to a karaoke it would probably sing the words to Toto’s famous hit Africa; “It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you.” The virus was first discovered in 1947 in a forest near Entebbe, Uganda. According to the CDC, “prior to 2015, Zika virus outbreaks occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.” It is also believed that the mosquito-borne disease arrived in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup. “Cape Verde has historical links with Brazil and it seems very likely it has got there from Brazil,” Zika expert for the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Nick Beeching of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine said.
Cape Verde is 350 miles west of Senegal in West Africa – known as the Ebola African Theater (actually, it is not known as such, at least to my recollection. I just made it up. See, I’m trying to do this thing in which I equate the Ebola outbreak to a war). A hundred pregnant women have contracted the Zika virus in Cape Verde’s capital Praia – women who now fear for the health of their unborn babies. Local authorities and global experts are concerned as well about the effects of another epidemic in a part of the world that’s still reeling from Ebola – and who is still poorly equipped to handle health crises. Cape Verde's health ministry has recorded over 7,000 cases of Zika since October of last year, and heavier rains have increased the number of mosquitoes. Regional health officials told Reuters they were concerned about Zika being exported to Senegal or Guinea Bissau, and Beeching thinks it highly likely that the virus will return to the African mainland by virtue of regular flight connections from the Atlantic islands.
Scientists have found more than 20 different Zika-carrying species of mosquitoes in the Dark Continent. Moreover, the genetic make-up of the virus, according to the WHO, “appears to have changed in character” as it moved through Asia, though how exactly it has changed has yet to be seen. “There are a few genetic differences between the African and Asian lineages, and it looks like the Asian lineages may be better able to transmit and flourish in a human population,” researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Jimmy Whitworth told Reuters. Beeching added that “we just don't know how Zika will spread if it gets to Africa.” It will all come down to the level of immunity among African populations.
We know that many international health organizations are of Captain Spaulding’s persuasion (“Africa is god’s country… and he can have it”), so I guess we better just say a Praia – though there seems to be no apparent link in Africa between Zika and birth defects. Speaking of which, the World Health Organization says the link between the virus and microcephaly in babies and Guillain-Barre syndrome may be confirmed soon. “We have a few more weeks to be sure to demonstrate causality, but the link between Zika and Guillain-Barre is highly probable,” WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation Marie-Paule Kieny said in a news briefing. Additionally, of the 15 groups that are working on it, “two vaccine candidates seem to be more advanced: a DNA vaccine from the U.S. National Institutes for Health and an inactivated product from Bharat Biotech in India.” The only treatment for the virus is aimed at alleviating its symptoms; e.g., acetaminophen for pain and fever.
The Brazilian health ministry has partnered with the University of Texas in hopes of developing a vaccine within a year. This announcement comes in the wake of new lab analyses which detected Zika infections in three people who died last year in Brazil – though officials couldn’t say for sure that the virus was solely responsible for their untimely demises. Similarly, “we have 319 confirmed cases, of which unfortunately 68 presented complications and we've had three deaths due to Zika nationally,” Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said during a broadcast on state television. He also said the number of suspected cases has increased to 5,221 – but doctors say the incidence of Zika is much greater than that, and that the leftist government is only halfheartedly responding to the epidemic. Physicians and non-governmental health organizations following dozens of pregnancy more closely than Herod the Great did in his day, but Zika-related birth defects are only likely to be observed come April.