There is a ‘kid on the block’ screaming for attention and it has chosen one of the things we have learnt to live with as its route into our consciousness. Zika virus is the kid and you would agree that mosquitoes are one of things we have learnt to live with as humans.
The virus was first discovered in monkeys in Uganda in 1947 and the first human case was identified in Uganda in 1952. There have been outbreaks of the virus but they have been small and were never considered as threats.
On Friday, the federal ministry of health issued a warning to pregnant Nigerian women against travelling to countries in Latin America, owing to the outbreak of Zika virus.
1. WHY THE ATTENTION? In May 2015, the virus was reported in Brazil and it has since spread rapidly to other countries in the Americas, the latest being Peru. The virus is getting attention globally because of the connection between the virus and microcephaly – a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with small heads, which in turn causes developmental issues and, in some cases, death. Guillain-Barre syndrome, an auto immune disease condition which results in rapid paralysis on both sides of the body, has also being linked to Zika virus in some countries.
2. MODE OF TRANSMISSION Zika virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito from the Aedes genus, mainly Aedes aegypti in tropical regions; the mosquito becomes infected after biting a carrier of the infection. This is the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
3. FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN Unlike Ebola and other viral diseases, the reservoir of the Zika virus is not known. Simply put, there is no knowledge of the primary carrier of the virus. This makes it difficult to ascertain how easy or difficult it is to get infected with the virus.
4. NOW PRESENT IN MORE THAN 20 COUNTRIES Since it was first reported in Brazil in May 2015, the virus has rapidly spread across countries. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the outbreak is currently in more than 20 countries, including Africa’s Cape Verde.
Some other countries with cases of the virus are Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Venezuela.
5. HOW TO KNOW IF YOU ARE INFECTED According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, only about one in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, headache or conjunctivitis (red eyes). The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.
The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days but it can be found longer in some people. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon and death is rare.
6. NO TREATMENT FOR INFECTION According to the World Health Organization, Zika virus disease is usually relatively mild and requires no specific treatment. But the global health body advises that people sick with the virus should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. Also, no vaccine is currently in use for its treatment.
7. PREVENTION Mosquitoes and their breeding sites pose a risk factor for Zika virus infection and therefore, it is advised to get rid of stagnant water, as it is the major breeding site known for mosquitoes. Use of insect repellants and insecticides are also advised.
Insecticide-treated nets may not be of great relevance as the Aedes aegypti mosquito is prevalent in broad daylight. Travellers should take the basic precautions described above to protect themselves from mosquito bites. In one sentence, reduce or eliminate the risk of being bitten.