Zika Virus: Whether It is Dangerous for Russia

The first case of quickly spread around the world Zika virus has been recently registered in Russia. It was delivered by a person who had been on vacation in the tropics. According to the recent data in some countries of South America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and other countries the number of recovered people has stepped over hundreds and thousands. Meanwhile, today there is no specific treatment or vaccine against the disease.

Is this outbreak of the disease, caused by the virus, threatened for Russia? How to protect themselves from infection and how can this virus be dangerous for pregnant women? One of the leading Russian virologists, a Head of the Laboratory of Bionanotechnologies, Microbiology and Virology at Faculty of Natural Sciences in Novosibirsk State University, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergey Netesov gives his own explanation of the problem.

Today Zika virus is an infectious agent being rapidly spread in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It was first isolated in 1947 from a rhesus macaque monkey that had been placed in a cage in the Zika Forest of Uganda. However, only in 1954 Zika virus was isolated from a human. The virus belongs to the flavivirus genus and it is transmitted to humans primarily through mosquito bites. It is known that the virus is currently circulating in Africa, North and South America and Southeast Asia.

- It is wrong to say that this is a new virus, because it had certainly existed before the scientists detected it. It is just that researchers are becoming more careful and skilled, - Netesov notes. - The disease itself, caused by Zika virus, is not dangerous for human life: 3-5 days of fever, aching muscles and joints, rash and conjunctivitis (sometimes photophobia), rapid fatigue and headache. All symptoms disappear after a week. As you can see, Zika virus doesn’t have a significant threat for a human in the normal situation, in contrast to Ebola virus, where the probability of death is more than 50%.

The carriers of the virus are Aedes mosquitoes. These mosquitoes also transmit such viruses as dengue, Chikungunya, West Nile fever, Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever. Today the most effective way of prevention is to protect yourself from mosquito bites when travelling to countries where the virus and the mosquitoes are in evidence.

Why is it so much buzz around the virus, which has reached pandemic levels, despite its relative "harmlessness"? Sergey Viktorovich explains:

- The fact is that in cases of the virus infection there can be traced the following correlation: if the virus infects a pregnant woman, it is more likely for her to give birth to a defective child with microcephaly (an under-developed brain). The researchers involved in the study of the Zika outbreaks reported an increase of microcephaly in the areas where the virus is circulating. There is however no proof yet that Zika virus causes microcephaly. Nevertheless, the number of newborns with microcephaly has grown 30 times within a year in Brazil. All this correlates with the spread of Zika virus.

The virologist adds that women, both pregnant and about to become mothers, are to be more attentive to their health and avoid trips to the tropics:

- For example, a woman wants to get pregnant. There is a number of so-called TORCH-infections and she must be checked on their markers, such as rubella, toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, chickenpox, chlamydia and others. Otherwise, these diseases got during pregnancy can affect the fetus. Now Zika virus must be added to this list. Of course, it is necessary to avoid trips to the tropical countries before and during the pregnancy, since Zika virus is not the only virus circulating there. There are also dengue fever virus, Japanese encephalitis, chikungunya and malaria. All of them not only have a negative impact on the fetus, but with a considerable probability lead to its defects. While in some countries women have a normal reaction on the child's death, because they are ready to give birth to many other children, we have a different mentality and we want to give birth to a healthy child, who will grow and develop properly.

It is known that Zika virus can be transmitted not only through mosquito bites, but also through sexual contacts:

Avoiding the elementary rules of hygiene and contraception during the casual sex has already led Russia to the most powerful HIV epidemic in the world among developed and developing countries.

Moreover, only today it becomes evident how long, where and in what form the viruses can remain in the body after healing. For example, Ebola virus can be stored up to 9 months in the tissues of male testes and in the female mammary glands. Also, Ebola virus can hide in the eyeballs of both male and female after an illness (there is no immune system in the eyeballs, so viruses, entering them, can be stored for indefinite duration there). Zika virus may behave in a similar way, but it is yet to be explored. Therefore, all recovered people must use a condom when having a sex for 6 months after the desease.

Why is it still no specific treatment and vaccine against the disease caused by the dengue?

- Vaccines have not been produced yet, because the situation with the virus is developing rapidly. The economic damage is still insignificant. But developing a vaccine is a long and expensive process, requiring up to 10 years, - says Sergey Viktorovich. - Moreover, there are no special needs to have such a vaccine, as far as the disease caused by Zika virus is not pernicious. Finally, a real connection between Zika virus infection and the wrong development of a fetus is still to be definitely proved.

Due to global trade and travel the virus can be spread to the areas invaded with tiger mosquitoes, which are the carriers of it. These mosquitoes breed in the warm waters, for example, on the Mediterranean coast. However, will the climate allow such mosquitoes to appear in our country?

- A temperate climate is a benefit for Russia. This kind of mosquitoes does not survive the Russian winter. Consequently, our Siberian cold climate prevents the spread of many tropical infections, - says the researcher. - However, these mosquitoes are able to survive in the basements of the houses, so it is necessary for our sanitary service to control it.

The only place in Russia where mosquitoes of the Aedes genus are able to survive is the Black Sea region. Therefore, pest control of the ponds in this region is a must, since it prevents harmful mosquitoes from breeding. Only then the risk of Zika virus on the coast will be minimized.

More information about Zika virus and other viruses can be found on the website of the World Health Organization.