Zika virus is an emerging virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947. Later, it was identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
In May 2015, the public health authorities of Brazil confirmed the transmission of Zika virus in the northeast of the country. Since October 2015, other countries and territories of the America have reported the presence of the virus.
One out of four infected people develop symptoms of the disease. The disease is usually mild and can last 2-7 days.
Zika Virus disease is caused by Zika virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite by an infected mosquito (Aedes species mosquito).
The mosquito can be recognized by white markings on its legs and a marking on the upper surface of the chest (thorax). The mosquito originated in Africa and circulates in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
The most common symptoms of Zika infection are fever, skin rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
Zika virus disease is usually relatively mild and requires no specific treatment. People sick with Zika virus should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, they should seek medical care and advice. There is currently no vaccine available.
Why worry about Zika virus now?
a) Zika virus and birth defects.
Zika is suspected to cause Microcephaly, a birth defect characterised by incomplete brain development and an unusually small head.
Microcephaly is a life-long condition with no cure or standard of treatment, and is linked with conditions such as seizures, developmental delays and intellectual problems.
b) Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) and Zika virus?
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a condition in which a person’s immune system attacks itself, affecting the cells of the nervous system. An increase in (GBS) has been reported in areas where Zika virus epidemic has been documented.
Although a direct relationship has not been established, GBS is believed to be linked Zika virus infection.
The main symptoms of GBS include muscular weakness and tingling (paraesthesia) in the arms and legs. Severe complications can occur if the breathing muscles are affected. The most seriously ill patients need attention in intensive care units.
c) Can it be transmitted through blood or sexual contact?
In general, the Zika virus needs a vector (a means of transportation) to infect people. That vector is the mosquito. The virus has also been isolated in semen, and one case of possible person-to-person sexual transmission has been described, but not confirmed.
Zika can be transmitted through blood, but this is an infrequent mechanism. The usual recommendations for safe transfusions should be followed (e.g., healthy volunteer donors).
d) Can it be transmitted from mother to child?
There is little information on transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy or childbirth. Perinatal transmission has been reported with other vector-borne viruses. Studies are now being conducted on possible mother-to-child transmission of the virus and its possible effects on the baby. The only concern is the birth defects of babies born of mothers who have Zika virus infection.
e) Who is at risk of Zika infection?
Anyone not previously exposed to the virus and who lives in an area where the mosquito is present, and where imported or local cases have been reported, may be infected. It is likely that outbreaks may occur in other countries that have not yet reported any cases.
f) What causes rapid transmission?
There are two documented factors for rapid transmission of Zika Virus
- If outbreak occurs for the first time the entire population will be susceptible, lacking defences to Zika virus
- If the Aedes mosquito is widespread in the Region, given the climatic conditions, temperature, and humidity in the area.
Prevention involves reducing mosquito populations and avoiding bites, which occur mainly during the day.
To eliminate and control the mosquito, it is recommended to:
- Avoid stagnant water in outdoor containers (flower pots, bottles, and containers that collect water) so that they do not become mosquito-breeding sites.
- Cover domestic water tanks so that mosquitoes cannot get in.
- Dispose garbage safely and regularly; avoid accumulation.
- Unblock drains that could accumulate standing water.
- Use screens and mosquito nets to keep off mosquitoes.
- Cover exposed skin with long-sleeved shirts, trousers, and hats
- Use safe mosquito repellents.
- Sleep under mosquito nets.