Zika is being linked to a malformation of the brain in the foetus. But what are the facts behind the disease? The first signs were discovered in Uganda in 1947, so how come the virus is now in South America? Euronews spoke to Laura Rodrigues, professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
“Why it started moving, we don’t know, there’s a lot we don’t know, but it could be that the virus had some mutation that made it easier to transmit, it could be there’s just more global travel. People travel more and if the infected person moves from a country to another country then a mosquito in the new country bites the person and can transmit.”
Is it easy to diagnose Zika?
LR: “In the beginning of the Zika epidemic in Brazil people did not know how to differentiate from dengue, now we’re starting to be clearer. For example the rash becomes before the disease, whereas for dengue, first you’re ill for a couple of days before you have the rash. Dengue very rarely you have red eyes and itching, so we’re starting to be clear.”
What causes microcephaly?
LR: “Very early on it became clear that babies with microcephaly had calcifications in the brain so we knew it was an infection. There is a list of infections that can cause congenital infections and microcephaly and we excluded all of them, it was none of them, so it’s a new infection causing microcephaly. So when we diagnose microcephaly the harm is done. The structures of the brain are already missing so we cannot reverse that harm.”
Is there any treatment?
LR: “There is a research question whether there is antiviral treatment that might protect, to be given to the mother whenever’s she’s infected and that might reduce the likelihood of transmission to the baby. It’s very early days, but it’s a possibility of research.”