The Zika Virus: Risks, Effects, and Prevention

TLDR The Zika virus, first discovered in 1947, can cause microcephaly and other complications in babies when it infects the developing fetal brain. While there is currently no way to completely protect oneself from Zika, pregnant women should avoid traveling to affected areas, and for healthy adults, the infection is unlikely to cause severe harm and will clear within a week or two.

Timestamped Summary

00:00 Zika was first discovered in 1947 in the Zika forest in Uganda.
04:23 Zika was first discovered in a monkey in the Zika forest in Uganda, and was later found to have infected a 10 year old girl in Nigeria, but was considered a relatively mild disease until it appeared in a big way on the island of Yap in 2007.
08:11 The Zika virus can cause microcephaly in babies when it crosses over the placental barrier and infects the developing fetal brain, inhibiting its normal growth processes.
12:19 Zika virus infection can have more subtle effects on babies besides microcephaly, such as hearing deficits, vision deficits, learning problems, and other brain deformities, similar to the complications seen with rubella virus infection during pregnancy. Additionally, Zika virus has been associated with an increased risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults. The virus is able to enter brain cells and replicate, causing damage, but it does not integrate into the host's genetic material. The chances of a baby developing microcephaly after maternal Zika infection are currently unknown.
16:12 There is currently no way to completely protect oneself from Zika virus, so pregnant women should avoid traveling to areas with Zika transmission; however, for healthy adults, Zika infection is unlikely to cause severe harm and will clear from the body within a week or two.
20:06 The Zika virus is unlikely to cause harm to a fetus once the infection has been cleared, but there is still limited data on the long-term effects of Zika on pregnancy.
24:19 The host speaks to Andrew Haddow, a researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute for infectious diseases, who explains that Zika was underestimated and missed for so long because it was often mistaken for other illnesses and its symptoms were not well understood.
28:44 Zika can be transmitted sexually and can stay in semen for longer than in blood, leading to recommendations for men to wait six months before having unprotected sex after traveling to Zika-infected areas; the outbreak of microcephaly and paralysis may have always been possible but went undetected due to lack of study and immunity in women who were infected at a young age.
33:09 Zika is overall pretty stable and there is still uncertainty about whether it is evolving to become more dangerous or if it is the same old virus that has found a new population to infect; there are ongoing efforts to develop a vaccine, but it is estimated that the earliest date for a vaccine will be in 2018.

Browse more Science