The Zika Virus Explained

Vox, the news site that markets itself as the go to destination for explainer journalism, or journalism that breaks down the broader context of the news issues currently topping headlines, recently did an explainer article, using 6 charts and maps, on the zika virus.

Zika is a mosquito borne virus which, until recently had been of limited import. Though the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes that carry the virus have long existed in the West, including in the southern parts of the United States, zika only migrated to the Western Hemisphere in 2013. And, unlike malaria which is also carried by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, zika is rarely deadly. In fact, people often don’t even know that they’ve infected either because they don’t show symptoms, or the symptoms – fever, rash, joint pain, or pink eye – are easily confused with that of other illnesses. Symptoms, if they occur, generally clear up within twelve days.

Still, Zika has spread incredibly rapidly in 2007 there were 14 cases diagnosed worldwide to an estimated 1.5 million in 2015. And in the areas zika has spread, so too has the increase in microcephaly in newborn babies. From the article:

The country has seen an unusual surge of Zika cases over the past two years — possibly after the virus arrived with World Cup travelers in 2014. Last year, more than 1.5 million people were affected.

Over that same period, Brazil has seen more and more newborns born with microcephaly, a congenital condition that’s associated with a small head and incomplete brain development. Normally Brazil gets several hundred cases a year, but since October 2015, health officials have reported more than 3,500 cases.

graph of incidences

According to the CDC, microcephaly is linked to seizures, a decreased ability to learn and function in daily life, feeding problems, hearing loss, vision problems, and developmental delays.

tiny head

As images of children with microcephaly has swept the web, panic has followed, with some countries telling women to delay pregnancy by as much as two years, and people – including women are who are not pregnant and don’t plan to be soon – cancelling planned vacations to affected areas.

The VOX article serves to temper those fears, with facts. The use of a drawn image of microcephaly  is good because it helps to visualize the issue without stoking panic. They also do a good job of pointing out that what is known is less frightening, and very narrowly impacts specific populations who should.

I also appreciate their tempering of the issue while pointing readers in a direction they should be concerned: everything suggests that at least in the United States currently, zika is manageable. There have been no domestic transmissions, but climate change is what likely allowed zika to spread so rapidly, and other more deadly diseases may be lurking behind it. Climate change is what we should really be afraid of.

zika countries

climate countries