How to avoid the Zika virus during the 2016 Rio Olympics

The virus was first discovered in the 1940s in Uganda, where its natural carriers were monkeys.

The virus was first discovered in the 1940s in Uganda, where its natural carriers were monkeys.

Reuters
The World Health Organization announced a global emergency in relation to the rapid spread of the Zika virus, which has been found in North and South America. Now the first case has been discovered in Europe. Russian virologists tell RBTH what to do in order to reduce the risk of infection.

Unlike Ebola, the Zika virus is not fatal. However, it seems to lead to children being born with microcephaly, an innate condition affecting the development of the skull and consequently the brain, which results in serious underdevelopment of the child.

Since October 2015 more than 4,000 cases of microcephaly in children born to infected mothers have been registered in Brazil alone, a country that is preparing to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The virus was first discovered in the 1940s in Uganda, where its natural carriers were monkeys. But while the local population developed a strong immunity to the virus, it was "noticed" on a global level only after the mosquitoes carrying it appeared in South America and actively settled throughout the continent.

The pathogenic result that is now being observed in the New World is the consequence of the virus appearing in populations that have not developed immunity.

Besides the New World, these mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus) have been seen in practically every corner of the planet, except Antarctica. The insects also carry the Dengue fever, the Yellow Fever, the West Nile Virus and about a hundred other lesser-known viruses.

Currently, work on finding a vaccine for Zika is only beginning (in the US, Europe, Russia and India), which is why for now the best way to fight it is with preventive measures, according to virologists.

How to avoid it:

A warning to pregnant women

Since Zika can cause the greatest amount of damage a child in his or her mother's womb, virologists warn pregnant women not to travel to tropical countries. However, if a pregnant woman is already in a tropical country, she should try and stay in air-conditioned facilities and undergo a virus test.

Personal defense

The main form of defense is mosquito nets in windows and over beds, long clothing and mosquito repellents. Pathogenic mosquitoes are usually found in wild locations and in the peripheries of cities, which is why to avoid the risk it is better not to come into contact with nature.

Eliminating mosquitoes

In some countries the local authorities are killing mosquitoes near ponds and swamps in a centralized manner. For example, Canadian authorities are using Metathion. These methods reduce the numbers of mosquitoes, but do not eliminate them entirely.

Sexual abstinence

Some scientists believe that the Zika virus is transmitted through sexual intercourse from infected men, even three weeks after they are cured.

Planning your travels

If you are planning to visit countries, which have reported an outbreak of Zika or other dangerous viruses, take safety precautions before your travel. One of the largest events in South America in 2016 will be the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, a Brazilian city, which has reported 3 suspected cases of the Zika virus.

The text and instructions were based on interviews with Professor Mikhail Schelkanov from the Far East Federal University in Vladivostok and Professor Sergei Netesov from the Novosibirsk State University.

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