Africa appears to be the next continent to feel the effects of the strain of Zika virus that’s been circulating around the Americas.
On Friday, the World Health Organisation said it had confirmed that the Zika virus strain that’s been circulating on the African island nation of Cabo Verde is the same as the strain that has been linked to birth defects and neurological conditions in South and Central America.
“The findings are of concern because it is further proof that the outbreak is spreading beyond South America and is on the doorstep of Africa.” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa said in a release. “This information will help African countries to re-evaluate their level of risk and adapt and increase their levels of preparedness.”
The Zika virus was originally identified in 1947 in Uganda. It was relatively unknown until 2007, when there was an outbreak of the virus in Micronesia. That Asian type is the one that made its way to Brazil in 2015.
The Zika virus, which is transmitted mainly via mosquitoes, has been identified in the US but only in people who’ve recently travelled to Zika hot spots. Once infected with Zika, only about 20% of people ever show symptoms, which most commonly include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. There is no vaccine or treatment available for the virus.
One reason this strain of Zika is so troubling is because it is a cause of birth defects including microcephaly (a condition where the baby’s head is abnormally small) in babies whose mothers have had Zika. The virus also been linked to a neurological condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Cabo Verde has had locally transmitted Zika since October 2015, and the WHO reports there have been three cases of microcephaly but no cases of GBS.
Here’s what Zika’s spread has been like since the virus hit Brazil in May 2015:
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