The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and was named after Zika Forest in Uganda, where the virus was first isolated. Researchers found an unknown virus from the serum of a rhesus monkey, which had recently developed an illness different than that of yellow fever. The following year, the same research group ground up mosquitoes belonging to Aedes africanus, and injected the mixture into mice. Subsequently, the injected mice showed similar symptoms to that of the original rhesus monkey and contained the same virus in the serum.
In the beginning of its discovery, the ability for Zika to infect humans was questioned. It wasn’t until 1952 when the first case of Zika was documented in humans. In 1964, William Bearcroft confirmed Zika’s potential for infecting human through his unorthodox method; he had directly injected Zika-laced mouse particles into his arm. His published research describes how he developed only a mild headache and a small fever. Bearcroft’s research paved the way for the scientific community’s tamed view on Zika due to its seemingly insignificant health risks.
Zika experienced media attraction during the first major breakout which occurred in 2007 on Yap Island. This was unusual as prior to the outbreak, only 14 cases of Zika in humans was ever recorded. It is estimated that about 73% of the population had been in contact with Zika due to the presence of antibodies and the actual virus in the blood. Among the 5000 people estimated to have to disease, only about 900 were thought to have had symptoms. What’s more surprising is that there were no deaths nor hospitalization of any afflicted people.
Microcephaly is commonly associated with Zika
Another major outbreak occurred from October to late 2015 in Brazil when the country suddenly experienced an unusual number of microcephaly cases. Almost 3,500 newborn babies were born with abnormally small heads due to underdeveloped brains. As researchers suspected, the cause was most likely due to the Zika; the virus was known for its association with microcephaly in newborns and Guillain–Barré syndrome in adults. At the turn of the year, the outbreak that began in Brazil had become an epidemic as it had spread to both North and South America as well as the Caribbean. By then, government precautions were implemented that warned pregnant women the possibilities of having babies being born with microcephaly when traveling to at-risk-areas. Women who lived or planned to go to these areas were also advised to postpone any pregnancy decisions until more is known about the virus.
On November 2016, The World Health Organization declared that Zika was no longer a major risk in the Americas. As of April 2017, a Zika vaccine which contains inactivated proteins of the virus has been created and is currently undergoing clinical trials. As a result of the Brazil outbreak, many infants and adults died, which was previously unheard of. Due to the lack of knowledge, a disease that was once thought to be as relativity harmless became an epidemic that caused detrimental affects to thousands. This goes to show how important research is and how it can prevent future outbreaks.