The Zika virus is a variant of the yellow fever, dengue, and the West Nile virus. It has been known to exist in Africa and Asia for about 70 years. However, cases of infection were contained to the eastern hemisphere – until recently there was no substantial number of cases in the western hemisphere until the most current outbreak began in Brazil last year. The virus is transmitted through mosquito bites: A mosquito bites an infected person and takes the virus into its bloodstream. When the mosquito then subsequently bites an uninfected person, the Zika virus travels through the mosquito’s blood stream and salivary glands to be deposited into the uninfected person.
The particular type of mosquito that is most responsible for the spread of the Zika virus in Brazil and Central America has been seen in the United States as far north as Washington, D.C. during periods of extreme heat. Otherwise, it is usually found in Florida, along the Gulf Coast, and in Hawaii. U.S. residents living in these areas – or those who travel to Central and South America – are at an increased risk of being infected with the Zika virus.
Pregnant women who are bitten by infected mosquitos are of special concern to scientists and health professionals, as are those who develop a type of temporary paralysis after being infected with the virus.
Symptoms of the Zika virus can appear for up to a month after a person has become infected. Most symptoms of the Zika virus are mild: these include a fever, rash, joint pain, and/or red eyes. Very few individuals need to be hospitalized because of the virus. A few individuals may develop temporary paralysis: these individuals need medical attention to prevent certain complications.