What happened to… Zika virus – Toronto


On this episode of the Global News podcast What Happened To…?, journalist Erica Vella revisits the Zika virus epidemic that infected hundreds of thousands of people in South America in 2015 and 2016.

Brazil was among one of the countries most affected by the Zika virus but Dr. Carlos Pardo, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, said the virus emerged in the 1950s.

“It was relatively known to a virologist, but not necessarily very well known to public health officials in the world and really emerged as a major threat after the outbreaks in French Polynesia that spread very quickly to other areas of the world, including Latin America in 2015 and 2016,” Pardo said.

Zika virus is an arbovirus — a type of virus that is transmitted by certain kinds of insects like mosquitos.

The ades Aegypti mosquito, which is primarily found in tropical climates, is a known carrier of the virus.

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“During an outbreak situation, individuals that are infected actually replicate or grow a significant amount of virus in their blood,” said Dr. Michael Drebot, director of the zoonotic diseases and special pathogens division at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

“So when a mosquito comes and bites an individual and takes a blood meal, they will uptake the virus and then they’ll fly to another individual and give the virus to them. So this transmission cycle of person to mosquito to person again really drives the outbreaks.”

Zika can also be sexually transmitted.

“It was noted back in 2016 that some subjects actually had a very important persistence of viruses in semen,” Pardo said.

READ MORE: Mosquito species capable of carrying Zika virus caught in Windsor, Ont.

“It has been demonstrated that even in women, there is evidence of Zika presence in mucosal secretions and body secretions. So the possibility that men may be able to transmit Zika is quite clear.”

In 2015, Juliana Ferreira was living in Brazil when she started developing strange symptoms, like a fever and a rash.

“It was weird because nobody knew exactly what I was having. So I went to the first doctors and they said it was just like a normal flu I was going through. And then the rash came after maybe, two days after feeling a little bit tired with some muscle pain,” she said.

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“At first it looked like chickenpox. You know, they were just small spots in my skin, some red reddish areas, first in my face, and then it started to go down through my chest and it stopped in my legs. It never covered my legs. … So first I thought I was having dengue, which is also very common at this time of the year.”

Ferreira said she went back to the doctor’s office to get a test.

“I went again to the doctor and then I tested my blood and they said it was the Zika virus,” she said.

READ MORE: Here’s how hard Zika virus hit Canadian tourists last year

Juliana was one of few people to be infected that displayed symptoms; Pardo said only 20 per cent of infected people show symptoms, but the risk rests with pregnant mothers as Zika is known to also cause Congenital Zika Syndrome and microcephaly in fetuses.


Click to play video: 'As many plan trips to escape our cold winter weather, a reminder about the dangers of the Zika virus'



As many plan trips to escape our cold winter weather, a reminder about the dangers of the Zika virus


As many plan trips to escape our cold winter weather, a reminder about the dangers of the Zika virus – Jan 5, 2017

“Microcephaly is the medical term assigned to a small brain,” Pardo explained.

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Microcephaly occurs in these children when their mothers are infected with Zika while pregnant, he said. The fetus develops viral illness and eventually encephalitis.

“This means the inflammation of the fetal brain or inflammation of the developing brain, and that inflammatory reaction and that viral infection actually produces q0uite extensive damage of the cells that were facilitating the growth of the brain,” Pardo said.

The World Health Organization estimated at the height of the epidemic, there were over 216,207 probable cases of acute Zika virus disease were reported in Brazil and thousands of babies were born with complications.

Anis Institute for Bioethics, a not-for-profit organization in Brazil, has been one of the leading organizations advocating for women and families affected by the Zika epidemic.

READ MORE: 1 in 10 U.S. moms infected with Zika have babies with birth defects: report

Luciana Brito, researcher and psychologist for Anis Institute for Bioethics, said since the beginning of the epidemic, over 19,000 babies have been born with suspected Congenital Zika Syndrome.

“These numbers represent lives,” Brito said. “The lives of children affected by Zika, they are not babies anymore.”

On this episode of What Happened To…?, Erica Vella revisits the 2015 Zika epidemic and finds out if the virus is still a threat. She also speaks with the families impacted virus who share what life has been like.

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Email: [email protected]

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