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All You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

The Zika virus is the latest health scare that has gripped the planet. The virus initially came to prominence in 2015 when pregnant Brazilian women that were infected with the virus gave birth to babies with microcephaly or abnormally small heads that are linked to incomplete brain development. 

According to global health officials, the virus is spreading rather rapidly in the Americas and has the potential to infect 3 to 4 million people. Countries like El Salvador and Brazil have taken rather drastic measures as a means to combat the outbreak of the Zika virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the Zika virus will probably spread to all of the Americas except for Canada and Chile where the species of mosquito that transmits the virus doesn’t exist. While the race for a vaccine is ongoing, women in affected areas including Ecuador, Jamaica, Brazil and Colombia etc. have been advised to avoid getting pregnant until more is known about the virus.

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5 Countries Affected by the Zika Virus Outbreak

To begin with, the virus was reported in South Asia, Africa and Polynesia, but with the passage of time, it has reached Central and South America as well. It was back in May 2015 that an outbreak of the disease in Brazil had lead to health alerts. As time passed by, a travel alert has been issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 24 countries and territories where the virus is ongoing. 

These are inclusive of Brazil, El Salvador, Colombia, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde and Samoa.

It’s anticipated by the World Health Organization that the Zika virus is going to spread to all but two countries in the South, Central and North America. Over the past several months, the mosquito-borne disease has raged in South America and several other regions as well. It is believed that the ‘aedes’ mosquito that is responsible for the transmission of this disease is present in all the region’s countries except Canada and continental Chile.

A means of prevention

It’s highly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for pregnant women to refrain from traveling to the countries where the Zika virus infection rates remain high at the moment. Any pregnant women who have recently visited the countries mentioned above have also been asked by the CDC to get screened and monitored for the virus as well.

4 How Does the Virus Spread?

The virus is transmitted when an Aedes mosquito bites a person who has an active infection and then spreads the virus even further by biting other individuals. Those individuals then become carriers of the virus for as long as they have symptoms of an infection.

For those who don’t know, the Zika virus happens to be a member of the Flaviviridae family and is transmitted to humans through mosquitoes. Although the virus is similar to a few other flaviviruses like Japanese encephalitis, dengue and West-Nile, it tends to produce a comparatively mild disease in humans. 

The virus is known to have caused a major outbreak back in the year 2007 in the Pacific and in the island of Yap. It is believed that this was the first ever documented transmitted outbreak outside of its traditional endemic areas in Asia and Africa. When it comes to Europe, there is no evidence of transmission of the virus as of yet, whereas instances of imported cases are extremely rare.

Other details

Zika virus is primarily transmitted to humans through bites from the Aedes mosquitoes, which often live around buildings in urban areas and are usually active during daylight hours (peak biting activity occurs in early mornings and late afternoons). It is believed that the Zika virus can also be transmitted to humans through blood transfusion, perinatal transmission and sexual transmission. However, these modes are very rare. The incubation period of the infection is typically between 2 and 7 days.

3 Symptoms of Zika Virus

Zika virus infection is characterized by a low grade fever that is typically accompanied by what is known as a maculopapular rash. There are quite a few other symptoms of the infection as well that include joint pain with possible swelling (particularly in the small joints of the hands and feet), muscle pain, conjunctivitis, headache and pain behind the eyes. 

What’s most important is that the symptoms are typically mild, because of which, the infection at times remains unrecognized or gets misdiagnosed as dengue. A majority of people typically recover from the infection without severe complications, and hospitalization rates are extremely low. Statistics show that just about 1 in 5 people become ill after contracting the Zika virus. 

The incubation period of the infection, which is the time from exposure to the onset of symptoms lasts between a few days to a week. After that, symptoms like fever, joint pain, rash and conjunctivitis come up together with muscle pain and headache. The good news is that the illness is typically rather mild with symptoms that only last about a week. 

Complications

Although the virus tends to remain in the blood of an infected individual for a few days, it is also possible for it to be found in the blood for longer periods of time.

During the 2013 outbreaks of the virus in French Polynesia and Brazil, several autoimmune and neurological complications of the virus were reported by national health authorities. At the moment, an increase has been noticed in virus infections in the general public of the affected countries together with an increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly.

2 Diagnosis

The one thing that should be mentioned here is that the symptoms of Zika virus are much the same as those of dengue and chikungunya, both of which are diseases that are spread through the same mosquitoes that transmit Zika. In case you start developing the symptoms mentioned previously, it’s highly recommended for you to see your healthcare provider right away. This particularly holds true for individuals who have recently traveled to and from an area where Zika is found. 

Also, you should get in touch with your healthcare provider if you have recently traveled to such areas. There’s a good chance that you will have to get a few blood tests done to look for Zika and other similar viruses like chikungunya and dengue. A PCR or Polymerase Chain Reaction is typically used together with virus isolation from blood samples for the diagnosis of Zika virus. 

Carrying out a diagnosis through serology is not really recommended as the virus has the potential to cross-react with other flaviviruses such as dengue, West Nile and yellow fever. Nucleic acid detection by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction targeting the non-structural protein 5 genomic region is the primary means of diagnosis, while virus isolation is largely for research purposes. 

Samples and testing

Saliva or urine samples collected during the first 3 to 5 days after symptom onset, or serum collected in the first 1 to 3 days, are suitable for detection of Zika virus by these methods.

Serological tests that are inclusive of immunofluorescence assays and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays have the potential to indicate the presence of anti-Zika virus IgM and IgG antibodies. It’s necessary for serological results to be considered cautiously as IgM cross reactivity with other flaviviruses has been reported in both primary infected patients and those with a probable history of prior flavivirus infection.

5. Treatment 

Zika virus infection typically tends to be relatively mild and does not really require any treatment. However, it’s necessary for people who are sick with Zika virus to drink a lot of fluids, get plenty of rest and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, they should seek medical care and advice. Bear in mind, however, that there is no vaccine available as of yet for the virus.

Zika virus treatment basically relieves symptoms with the help of analgesics and antipyretics. The good news is that there is no need for you to panic in case you are diagnosed with the Zika virus. This is because although there is no vaccine or medication for the virus, there’s nothing for you to panic over as long as you are otherwise healthy. 

The only things that you need to do to recover from the infection are those of getting plenty of rest and have lots of fluids. Just in case you don’t start feeling better in a few days, it’s best for you to get in touch with your doctor.

A point to remember

It’s highly recommended for you to stay away from the utilization of ibuprofen and aspirin considering that these drugs act as blood thinners. Dengue fever is also spread by the mosquito that transmits Zika, and there is a higher risk of hemorrhaging in dengue fever – this could be bad news in case you have dengue and not Zika.

6. Prevention and Control

The most prominent risk factor for Zika virus infection are mosquitoes and their breeding sites. Prevention and control of the virus basically revolves around reducing mosquitoes through source reduction (removal and modification of breeding sites) and reducing contact between mosquitoes and people.

In order to prevent the spread of Zika virus, it’s recommended for people in affected areas to use insect repellents, wear clothes that cover as much of their bodies as possible, use physical barriers like screens, closed doors and windows and sleep under mosquito nets. 

It’s also important to empty, clean or cover containers that can hold water such as buckets, flower pots or tires, so that places where mosquitoes can breed are removed. With that, people who cannot protect themselves adequately should be given special attention and help. This includes young children along with the sick and elderly.

What should be done during an outbreak?

In case an outbreak does take place, it’s best for people to start spraying insecticides. Insecticides that have been recommended by the WHO Pesticide Evaluation Scheme may additionally be used in the form of larvicides in order to treat large-sized water containers. It’s advised for travellers and tourists to take up basic precautions such as those mentioned above in order to protect themselves from mosquito bites and virus transmission.

1 Zika Virus and Birth Defects

The onset of Zika virus in a pregnant woman can lead to a serious birth defect of the brain known as microcephaly – a condition in which a baby’s head is far smaller than expected as compared to other babies of the same age and sex. Apart from microcephaly, there are a number of other poor pregnancy outcomes as well in babies of mothers who were infected with the virus during pregnancy.

Knowledge of the link between Zika and these outcomes is evolving, but until more is known, authorities like the CDC recommend special precautions for the following groups:

  • Pregnant women (irrespective of what trimester they are in)
  • Women who are trying to get pregnant

If you are pregnant, it’s best for you to postpone any travel plans that you may have to any areas where the Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Also, if it’s an absolute must for you to travel to one of those areas, it’s recommended for you to talk to your doctor first and strictly follow the prevention methods discussed previously all through your trip. 

If you are trying to conceive and have to travel to a Zika-affected area, you should get in touch with your doctor and discuss your travel plans as well as those of your pregnancy along with the prevention measure that you should take while traveling.

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