The Zika virus is the new health threat that the world is facing. This mosquito borne virus is spreading rapidly in South and Central America and the Caribbean. According to World Health Organization (WHO) scientists, there will be 3 to 4 million new infections in the Americas and the virus could spread in the southern United States, where cases of Zika have already been confirmed.
WHO has declared Zika a public health emergency and gave the factors leading to this declaration as the large area potentially affected by the virus, the lack of vaccines and reliable diagnostic tests, and lack of population immunity in the affected countries.
Spread through bites of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the most common symptoms of Zika virus infection are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). However, studies show that an estimated 80% of persons infected with Zika virus are asymptomatic. As there is currently is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, the CDC says that the best way to avoid the infection is to prevent mosquito bites.
According to the CDC, Zika virus disease can often be diagnosed after the first week of illness by performing reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) on serum. However, the CDC also says that the problem with this antibody assay is that cannot accurately distinguish between Zika and similar viruses such as the dengue virus.
First found in 1947 in a rhesus monkey in Uganda’s Zika Forest, Zika attracted attention in 2015 when pregnant Brazilian women who became infected with the virus gave birth to babies with an abnormally small head, a condition called microcephaly. Though the link between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly is not confirmed, the CDC’s updated guidelines offer recommendations for testing in pregnant women exposed to risks of Zika virus infection. Zika virus testing is also recommended for infants with microcephaly or intracranial calcifications born to women who traveled to or resided in an area with Zika virus transmission while pregnant, and for infants born to mothers with positive or inconclusive test results for Zika virus infection.
The most important tool necessary to face this viral outbreak is a reliable, accurate and easily accessible diagnostic test. As the number of cases raise, the absence of such as test poses a major challenge for researchers and governments trying to understand the disease and accurately assess the threat it poses to public health. Therefore, many companies are aggressively involved in research to develop a simple diagnostic test to detect Zika virus infection as well as a vaccine to prevent it.