The confusion surrounding the Zika Virus outbreak in the Americas is underlined by the fact that nobody knows how many people have been infected, mainly because many do not show any symptoms at all. With thousands of cases of microcephaly and immune system damage being reported, what are the consequences for the Rio Olympics?
The focus of the infection is on Brazil due to the statistics involved in a country with a population of 200 million. The estimates are that between 500,000 and 1.5 million Brazilians were infected over the last year by the virus carried by the Aedes mosquito. President Dilma has declared that while the mosquitoes are multiplying, the war is being lost. While public transportation vehicles carry posters with a picture of a giant mosquito and the words "Mosquitoes can kill" most people infected suffer mild flu-like symptoms, which last for between two to seven days, if any at all. The Brazilian Health Ministry has confirmed that in 80 per cent of cases, there are no symptoms at all, while in the rest, there is a fever, rash, aching joints, headache, a general feeling of malaise and weakness and conjunctivitis.
However, there has been a massive increase in cases of microcephaly, from 150 cases in Brazil in 2014 to 4.180 suspected cases, although the scientific community is still trying to establish a definitive link between the virus in the pregnant mother and the baby - it is thought that the virus can in some (few) cases pass through the placenta and affect the child. To date there are six confirmed cases of microcephaly caused by Zika virus but there are other causes, namely exposure to radiation, syphilis, German measles, toxoplasmosis and drug use.
More alarmingly, there have been cases of auto-immune disturbances reportedly linked to Zika virus
While the reservoir of Zika vírus is unknown, the vector, or method of transmission, is the infected mosquito biting its victim, or the mother passing the virus to the child. A "healthy" mosquito can transmit the virus after biting an infected person. The Aedes mosquitoes, which also transmit Chikungunya, Yellow fever and Dengue fever, usually bite at dawn and dusk.
Zika virus was first identified in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys and has spread around Asia, across Polynesia and to the Americas, first to Peru, then across to Brazil and up through the Caribbean and Central America.
The 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (XXXI Olympiad) from August 5 to 21 are an obvious focal point of concern. However, given that only 20 per cent of victims suffer any symptoms at all, and given that the vast majority of complications are centered around pregnant women and their babies, the bottom line at this point in time would be go to the Olympics, unless you are pregnant.
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.