Tracking the Geographic Spread of the Zika Virus

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In the tropics all over the world, and particularly in Central and South America, the mosquito­borne Zika virus is becoming an increasingly serious health and environmental concern. It has prompted attention from governments in tropical countries, officials in the United States and United Nations, and private companies. The virus has also given more reason to focus on climate change. The expansion of warm, wet climates ­ and with them, the habitable ranges of pathogen­carrying lifeforms ­ is among the most serious outcomes of a warming world. The wide spectrum of solutions offered by various organizations provide simple solutions to this very complex problem, and fail to address the full scope of the issue.

The government of El Salvador has been widely covered recently for its response to the epidemic. As the international community urges El Salvador to allow abortions to prevent the birth defects caused by the virus, the government suggested to its citizens to not become pregnant for two years as the issue is dealt with. The government of Brazil, where the epidemic’s effect continues to grow, has instead moved funds towards the production of a working vaccine for the Zika virus. The United States has also made this a priority, according to a statement made by the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. More novel approaches to controlling the virus are given elsewhere. The International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations wants to use nuclear radiation to control the mosquito population. Oxitec, a British company, also aims to control the mosquito population by releasing genetically­modified mosquitoes that are unable to reproduce.

All of these solutions have potential undesirable effects and do not address the human activities involved. The virus can adapt to resist the vaccine, for example, and radiating natural areas seems to be an extreme measure. In addition, biotechnology of this sort has not been used enough to fully understand its effects on ecology. Although the international discourse on the virus does tend to focus on the risk posed by climate change and the expanding ranges of Aedes mosquito habitats, news articles seem to worry only about the risk posed to the developed world and minimize the suffering elsewhere  Stories like that of the Zika virus will likely become more common, furthering discussion on the topic and perhaps leading to a more complex and holistic response.

For those that want to track the progression of the Zika virus, healthmap.org has an online map along with an interactive timeline to see the chronology of the virus starting with the first autochthonous case reported in the Americas on Easter Island, Chile.

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