A Rift in the Valley


COURTESY OF CHENSPEC The Rift Valley Fever Virus comes from mosquitoes and spreads through contact with infected animals’ bodily fluids.

Hana McNierney, Wilcox and the World Editor

Many people know about the deadly effects of the Zika virus, which came under the international spotlight due to an outbreak in 2015 and 2016 in Central and South America. The Zika virus was especially dangerous to pregnant women, as their infants were often born with smaller than average size heads, which resulted in underdeveloped brains. As there is no known cure to treat the symptoms of the virus, there is much fear surrounding the disease. Yet, now, there are reports of a new virus—one that may be even deadlier than Zika. Known as the Rift Valley Virus, this disease is also spread with mosquitos.

The virus was first discovered where it is now most commonly found—livestock in sub-Saharan Africa. Much like Zika, the virus targets pregnant mothers, cows, and sheep, who often experience miscarriages or give birth to stillborns if they contract the disease. Yet, the impending danger resides not only in the economic loss of livestock: there are also numerous cases in the human population each year. According to the World Health Organization, most humans became infected as a result of coming in contact with infected animals’ blood or organs. Possibly due to climate change and a change in the migration pattern of the infected mosquito population, outbreaks of the virus are currently occurring in Saudi Arabia, parts of Europe, and North and South America.

That isn’t to say that there is no good news, however. Although the Zika virus was able to proliferate rapidly due to a lack of knowledge of the disease, scientists are ahead of the game with the Rift Valley Virus. Already, scientists are trying to figure out cures and treatments before a large outbreak occurs in the human population. According to the New York Times, the disease is not completely foreign to humans, and it causes “flu-like symptoms and severe liver problems.” In the early 2000s, “an outbreak in Saudi Arabia infected more than 100,000 people and led to at least 700 deaths.” Scientists may need to work more quickly, as the symptoms are deadly. In fact, two cases of human infants carrying the virus reported an enlarged spleen and liver in one of the infants and death in the other. If the experimental results from infected rats hold true, sixty-five percent of babies born to affected mothers may die and all of them would also be infected by the disease. Other more grave symptoms of the disease include “ocular (eye) disease (0.5-2 percent of patients), inflammation of the brain (less than 1 percent) or haemorrhagic fever (less than 1 percent),” according to the World Health Organization.

There is need for more research in treating the virus, and to aid the process, a fund of $48 million is being provided by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Currently, the only way to prevent a major outbreak is to be conscious about making contact with animals, especially mosquitos. According to the New York Times, doctors stress the importance of being aware of the issue and being careful near affected areas.