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02 Feb

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Pregnant Women Warned Not To Fly

February 2, 2013 | By | No Comments

On January 23, 2016, The United States Centers For Disease Control issued a WARNING to all pregnant women encouraging them not to visit Latin America or the Caribbean as your baby might be born with a birth defect.

watson-dr-patientThis is especially difficult for people looking to attend this year’s SUMMER OLYMPICS. Pregnant women are being warned not to travel to the Olympics in Brazil after a virus causing thousands of babies to be born with unusually small heads swept through the region.

Researchers say that the mosquito-borne ZICO virus has caused a meaningful spike in Microcephaly, a neurological disorder in which infants are born with smaller craniums and brains. The outbreak has spread with such speed that the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the warning to pregnant women not to travel to Brazil and 13 other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean – potentially affecting thousands intending to arrive in Rio for the Olympics this August.

watson-dr-patientThe Zika virus first originated in Africa when it was identified in a monkey in 1947. The Zika virus name comes from a forest in Uganda where the first infected rhesus monkeys were found. Within several years the virus had jumped to humans in Uganda and Tanzania, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Like dengue fever and chikungunya, two similar diseases, Zika is transmitted by mosquito species found in tropical and sub-tropical regions. In 70 to 80 percent of cases, the disease goes unnoticed. The symptoms resemble a mild case of the flu — headache, muscle and joint pain, and mild fever — plus a rash. Symptoms usually last two to seven days.

However, the disease is suspected of causing two serious complications: neurological problems such as microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads, and birth defects in babies born to infected women. The defect can cause brain damage and death. But while there appears to be a connection with Zika, researchers have not definitively confirmed a causal link.

The main neurological complication is Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, causing weakness and sometimes paralysis. Most patients recover, but the syndrome is sometimes deadly. Cases linked to Zika have been reported in Brazil and French Polynesia.

Health officials sounded the alarm in October 2015, after noticing a spike in cases of microcephaly in tandem with the Zika outbreak. Since October 2015, Brazil has recorded 3,893 suspected cases of the birth defect — which can lead to stillbirths, as well as long-lasting developmental and health problems among survivors. In all of 2014, South America’s most-populous nation recorded fewer than 150 cases of microcephaly.

Brazil’s Health Ministry doesn’t track the cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare and potentially life-threatening nerve condition that can leave victims paralyzed and on life-support, but doctors in the northeast have reported a six-fold jump in the number of cases during last year’s rainy season.

What regions are and have been affected by the Zika Virus?

The Zika virus has now spread through parts of Asia. It was first detected late last year in Brazil and spread rapidly hitting hardest the poor and underdeveloped region in the country’s northeast. Researchers suspect it may have been brought to the South American nation by a tourist during the 2014 World Cup or during an international canoeing event in Rio the same year. The virus is now spreading locally in some 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries, as far north as Mexico but as previously mentioned Brazil has been hit the hardest. The outbreak has led authorities in some countries to urge couples not to get pregnant, while the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has warned pregnant women to avoid traveling to 22 affected countries.

It is believed that travelers have also brought it back to the US states of Florida, Hawaii and New York. A woman in Hawaii gave birth to a baby with microcephaly after traveling to Brazil however there have not been any locally transmitted US cases reported, though the Aedes aegypti mosquito’s habitat stretches into the United States.

What is being done to prevent the virus?

Unfortunately at this time, there is no vaccine for Zika, and no specific treatment. Patients simply take pain-killers and other medication to combat the symptoms. Although the government has said it is pouring funds into developing a vaccine, officials caution that it will take at least three years.

Since the virus is transmitted through mosquito bites, prevention entails fighting mosquitoes and avoiding contact with them. Health officials recommend covering up, using insect repellent and keeping windows closed or screened.

Authorities have responded to the outbreak by fumigating and cleaning up the standing water where mosquitoes breed.

In Brazil, authorities have announced a crackdown on mosquito breeding grounds ahead of the Olympics, which will bring hundreds of thousands of travelers from around the world to Rio de Janeiro in August.

How will this affect the US Olympics?

Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic venues will be inspected daily during the games in a bid to prevent the spread of a mosquito-borne virus linked to a rare birth defect and also a condition that can cause paralysis, local organizers said.

The Rio 2016 local organizing committee stressed that because the Aug. 5-21 games are during the southern hemisphere winter, Brazil’s dry season, the mosquito population will be smaller.

In any case, teams will scour Rio’s Olympic and Paralympic sites daily, looking for stagnant waters that are the breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits Zika, as well as dengue and chikungunya.

“Rio 2016 will continue to monitor the issue closely and follow guidance from the Brazilian Ministry of Health,” the committee said in a statement.

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