The rapid spread of Zika, an obscure mosquito-borne virus, is a major challenge for scientific researchers across the world. With thousands getting infected with the virus in Brazil, a sudden increase in newborns with microcephaly (a condition that causes the head to be abnormally small) was recently reported.
Microcephaly has extensively affected babies in Brazil’s north-eastern region. Officials have reported at least 2,782 cases in 2015, as against 147 in 2014 and 167 in 2013. Till date, 40 infant deaths have been reported.
What is Zika fever?
Zika is a mosquito-borne flavivirus (family of RNA viruses majorly responsible for causing diseases in humans) and is closely related to the dengue virus.
The virus is named after the Zika forest in Uganda, Africa. It was first identified in Rhesus monkeys in 1947. In 1952, it was found in the people of Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. However, until last year, it was unheard of in the Americas. Outbreaks of Zika fever have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
The virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti (responsible for diseases like dengue and chikungunya) and Aedes albopictus species of mosquitoes. As it is transmitted by the bite of an infected arthropod (used to refer to invertebrates like spider, millipedes, scorpions, etc.), the virus is also called Arbovirus.
Women affected with Zika virus (during pregnancy) give birth to babies suffering from microcephaly. Virologists who studied Zika in Brazil have collated a lot of indirect evidence between the two.
WHO reveals conclusive evidence of linking Zika virus to Microcephaly!
Microcephaly is a birth defect due to which a baby’s head is smaller vis-à-vis babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller, less-developed brains.
The condition is also linked with complications like seizures, absence of developmental abilities (development of speech, posture and walking), vision and hearing problems and intellectual disabilities.
6 Symptoms that help detect Zika fever
The common symptoms includes
3.muscle and joint pain
6.conjunctivitis (redness of eyes).
Though, the incubation period (time required for symptoms to set in) for Zika virus disease is not conclusively known, it is estimated to be a few days to a week.
The rate of infection of the virus is about 1 in 5 people, of which few will develop symptoms that last for few days to a week (2 – 7 days). The mortality rate of the virus remains very low.
The virus can be found in the blood of an infected person for about a week, but in a few cases it can persist for a longer period.
How to DIAGNOSE Zika fever?
The symptoms of Zika are similar to those of dengue and chikungunya as these also spread through the same species of mosquitoes.
It is advisable to visit a healthcare provider if you have developed any symptoms after you visited an area struck with Zika.
Your doctor may advise for special blood tests to diagnose Zika or other similar viruses.
How to TREAT Zika Fever?
There is no medicine or vaccine yet to cure Zika completely. The treatment of symptoms is done as they appear. Also, recovery depends on the patient’s immunity and effectiveness of the medical care provided.
Generally, infected people should take complete rest and increase intake of fluids. Fever and pain should be cured with analgesics (for e.g. acetaminophen).
Aspirin and other non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs should be avoided.
3 Preventive measures you can take:
1. Using mosquito repellents and controlling breeding of mosquitoes is the best preventive care.
2. People infected with Zika should avoid mosquito bites for the first week of infection since it can pass to other people through the same mosquitoes.
3. Pregnant women should avoid travelling to regions with outbreak of the virus as it can spread from her to her foetus.
5 Important Facts about Zika fever:
1. There is no vaccine or cure for Zika.
2. Very rare cases develop temporary paralysis.
3. Eighty percent of infected people do not show symptoms, but still are carriers which increases chances of others getting infected.
4. Not all mosquito repellents work. For effectiveness, one should use repellents that contain at least 25% DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide – active ingredient in many insect repellents) or 20% Picaridin (hydroxyethyl isobutyl piperidine carboxylate).
5. The virus may spread through blood transfusion and sex.
WHO estimates that there could be 4 million cases of Zika by next year in America. Though there isn’t a single case reported yet in India, poor vector control could lead to a possible outburst as per the public health officials. Poor mosquito control in most parts of India makes it more vulnerable for such diseases.