The Zika virus is a pathogen which causes a minor illness that usually is characteristic of a fever and rash. The main concern of the virus in the Western world is the effect of the virus on pregnant women.
The virus often remains hidden in people. Over 80% of people infected did not show any symptoms. Zika has been present in Brazil since April of last year and has been spreading rapidly.
The disease has primarily spread from Brazil to other South American, Central American, and Caribbean countries.
Zika spreads through various types of mosquitoes, some of which have been found to live as far North as the Great Lakes region, increasing fear and concern within the United States. Researchers also believe the virus can be transmitted through sexual contact.
Microcephaly is a condition in which a baby is born with an abnormally small head, hindering brain development and causing painful seizures.
The recent increase in the number of children being born with microcephaly has raised concern in countries where the Zika virus has been found. In 2015, there were 2782 cases of confirmed cases of microcephaly compared to the 147 in 2014 and 167 in 2013.
Currently, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Jamaica have all had their respective health agencies advise women to avoid getting pregnant.
This virus is only now being studied, making doctors and researchers unsure of the true correlation between Zika and birth defects. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) director general has recently found evidence showing a stronger and stronger correlation between Zika and microcephaly.
On Feb. 20, 2016, research scientists in Brazil announced that they have sequenced the Zika virus genome and have expressed hope that this would help to develop a vaccine and to determine exactly what mechanisms the virus uses to cause birth defects.