Zika. Cool name right?
Unfortunately, it isn't really a cool thing. Zika is the name of a virus that is spread by mosquitos. It isn't necessarily bad - it produces flu-like symptoms that rarely are dangerous and are almost never fatal. However, researchers are investigating the rising numbers of a birth defect called microcephaly and think that the Zika virus might be playing a key role.
In Brazil, many hospitals are seeing a dramatic increase in cases of microcephaly when the mother has been affected by the Zika virus during pregnancy. Microcephaly stems from a few other causes, and results in brain abnormalities, mental retardation, and babies with very small heads. In babies where the root cause is the Zika virus, they are seeing slightly different versions of microcephaly, including abnormally stiff upper body muscles. The severity of these defects also depend on when the mother was infected. If she was bitten in the first trimester, the babies' brains have been developing without ridges and these kids will most likely not be fully functional.
The World Health Organization is calling this outbreak in South America "explosive", however, since the symptoms for non-pregnant patients are so mild it should be easily controlled in the U.S.
The best way to combat the spread of diseases like Zika are to improve efforts to combat mosquito-borne illnesses. Both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Mosquito Research Foundation are researching and testing ways to eliminate mosquito-borne illnesses like Malaria, Zika, and Dengue. Consider donating to these foundations to help improve their efforts.
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