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Confusion Abounds About Zika Virus

  • Carol Pearson

The World Health Organization is scrambling to address the Zika virus that's spreading rapidly through Latin America and the Caribbean. The virus has been linked to birth defects and, in adults, to a type of paralysis. Experts have lots of unanswered questions -- as do ordinary citizens.

The most alarming aspect of the Zika virus is a possible link to microcephaly where babies are born with abnormally small heads and brains.

The virus is circulating in Latin America and the Caribbean, but people VOA spoke to in Washington are worried.

"I just had a baby last year, last June, so I’m very concerned about the mothers," said Lisa Ortiz.

"I have a lot of family members and sisters and cousins that this could potentially negatively affect so [I am] definitely concerned," said Toney Rogers.

Some doctors say they have found the Zika virus in the brains of babies who died shortly after birth. The World Health Organization says it will take a few weeks more to see if there is a link. The agency also says a test for Zika will be available soon, and the race is also on to make a vaccine.

An army soldier distributes a pamphlet about the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the Zika virus on the edge of the Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Feb. 13, 2016.

An army soldier distributes a pamphlet about the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the Zika virus on the edge of the Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Feb. 13, 2016.

People used social media to ask questions on VOA's Straight Talk Africa about the symptoms of the Zika virus. Eighty percent of those who get it don't have any. Josh Michaud of the Kaiser Family Foundation was one of the guests who answered that question.

"Among the 20 percent who do show symptoms, they have those mild symptoms that we've talked about: the rash, the red eyes and the fever," said Michaud.

Watch related video report from VOA's Zlatica Hoke:

​A question from Zambia concerned the virus coming to Africa. Zika originated in Uganda but did not seem to cause microcephaly there. But, should it return to Africa from Brazil, no one knows what the outcome would be. Lisa Ortiz, who spoke to VOA in Washington, had advice as good as any expert could provide, even though she's not one.

"We always need to take precautions just in case. You never know how quickly these things can spread," said Ortiz.

That's also what the experts say, like Ron Waldman of George Washington University.

"I don't like to say this, but I am afraid it's the truth: we don't have enough information yet to answer many of these very, very good questions that are coming from the viewers and listeners," said Waldman.

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