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Zika Virus Updates

Cropped SingleCare logo By | March 24, 2016

Since the outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil in April 2015, more information has come to light as scientists work tirelessly to understand and treat the mysterious virus.

The spread of Zika virus through most of South America into Latin and North America has the World Health Organization on high alert. Researchers are diligently conducting studies in an effort to more thoroughly understand the virus, its expansion, and its connection to the microcephaly birth defect. Below we outline some of the important updates from recent research.

Continued Spread

The United States is seeing a slow but steady increase of Zika virus cases. As of late February, there have been 147 confirmed cases in the U.S., including nine pregnant women, according to the New York Times. Four of the women miscarried (under normal circumstances), two delivered healthy babies, two are still pregnant, andone of the women gave birth to a baby with microcephaly in Hawaii.

Although the instances of cases continue to rise in the United States, there is still not a conclusive link between Zika and microcephaly, nor do scientists understand precisely how they are related. The director of the Center for Disease Control, Dr. Thomas Frieden, cautions that the data is still too limited to draw conclusions. Nonetheless, many experts insist the link is very real and requires decisive action by the American medical community — the U.S. government is expecting to experience a massive increase in Zika virus cases related to the outbreak, as the Government Accountability Office reports.

Possible Connection to Guillain-Barré Syndrome

A new case-control study from the Lancet suggests that Zika virus may cause the dangerous Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Following an increase in reporting of the syndrome during the Zika outbreak, researchers looked more closely “to assess the role of Zika virus and dengue virus infection in developing Guillain-Barré syndrome.”

They found that 100% of patients with the syndrome had Zika antibodies, while only 56% of those in the control group had the same antibodies, pointing to a link. Still, according to the World Health Organization, the evidence is “circumstantial, but a growing body of clinical and epidemiological data points towards a causal role for Zika virus” in neurological disorders like microcephaly and GBS.

The Good News

The new information may sound a bit dire, but there is good news. The first diagnostic test kit for Zika virus has been developed and could be validated as early as the end of March, as the Hindu reports. Should the process proceed without a hitch, as many as 500,000 kits will be available in Brazil by the end of 2016. The Nucleic Acid Test can be performed in a few hours with blood, plasma, or urine samples, and also detects Dengue and Chikungunya.

KCTV5 explains how, according to Dr. Ana Bispo of the Flavivirus Laboratory in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, “The test has great potential for improving epidemiological vigilance because it shows which virus is circulating at a specific time in a given area. The test could also be particularly useful in the first days of infection, when the symptoms of Zika, chikungunya and dengue are so similar that it is difficult for doctors to distinguish between dengue and Zika.”

Although the virus is very rare, its prevention and detection are vitally important. Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine suggest wearing long clothing and insect repellant to ward off any Zika-carrying mosquitoes, according to News Medical. This is true for not only pregnant women, but anyone traveling to Zika-affected areas.

Regular visits to the doctor are also essential for prevention of the virus, and beyond. Finding an affordable provider is an easy task for members of SingleCare, who pay only for the treatments they receive at the same negotiated prices of insurance companies. The vast, searchable database of practitioners means you can find the right care for you.

(Main image: AkilRolle/Thinkstock)