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What is the Zika Virus?

What you need to know about what the World Health Organization is calling “explosive pandemic potential.”

Health experts are warning of a virus linked to shrunken brains in unborn children that can lead to severe brain damage or even death.

Authorities warn the Zika Virus, transmitted by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito, has spread to more than 20 countries and is causing widespread panic in Brazil where thousands have been infected and millions more are at risk of the incurable illness.

While the movement of the virus struggles to dominate global headlines the World Health Organisation warns of Zika’s “explosive pandemic potential”.

Key Facts about the Zika virus from the World Health Organization

-Zika virus is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes. It causes mild fever and rash. Other symptoms include muscle pain, joint pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and conjunctivitis.

-Zika virus disease is usually mild, with symptoms lasting only a few days.

-The disease has similar clinical signs to dengue, and may be misdiagnosed in areas where dengue is common.

-There is no cure for Zika virus disease. Treatment is focused on relieving the symptoms.

-Prevention and control relies on reducing the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes and minimizing contact between mosquitos and people ie clearing out stagnant water where mosquitoes breed, and protect against mosquito bites using repellent and screens.

Scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galvaston have only just stared working on a vaccine and while they are working off research from similar mosquito-borne virus’ such as dengue fever, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and West Nile disease, according to Professer Vasilakis, a an assistant professor in the university's pathology department, a cure is more than a decade away.

"What would take the longest time would be the process of passing it through the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) and other regulatory agencies to allow it for public use and that may take up to 10 to 12 years," said Prof Vasilakis.

Scientist in Brazil are also researching a vaccine and say one could be ready in five years, reports the BBC.

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