Frightening words on the Zika virus from a reliable source: a New York Times science reporter who has covered virulent global infections for decades.
McNeil notes that the mosquito-borne Zika virus was first isolated from a monkey in Uganda’s Zika Forest in 1947 but had probably circulated in Africa for ages, rendering many immune. Sporadic cases subsequently occurred in Africa, but by the 1960s, it had moved to Asia and crossed to Pacific islands, causing outbreaks in Micronesia in 2007 and in Tahiti in 2013, where the first cases of Guillain-Barré paralysis were noted. Though the situation was serious, there were no reports of microcephaly. The virus continued its progression around the world, landing in Brazil in 2015, where the first cases of microcephaly were documented. Why the epidemic appeared in Brazil remains a mystery, but there is no mystery about the havoc the virus causes. Scores of laboratories have established that the virus kills developing brain cells, leading to microcephaly or to blindness, deafness, and other devastation. The virus is also found in abundance in semen, so not only is there a risk of Zika infection from a mosquito bite to a pregnant woman, but infection can also occur through intercourse. The race is on, McNeil relates, to fathom how the virus causes its damage and to develop treatments and ultimately a vaccine. Of course, that could be a long process, hence the issuance of government guidelines on using repellants, destroying standing water sources, and using condoms. The author rightly takes to task delays by health agencies and the World Health Organization in issuing advisories—caused by fears of offending sovereign nations and the Roman Catholic Church, effects on tourism, and so on—and he ends the text with a useful Q-and-A addressing current knowledge as of June 2016.
Credit McNeil for a succinct summary of Zika to date, but be forewarned: this is a fast-breaking story, and the last word has yet to come, including how Zika will affect the American population as it journeys north.