Mosquito borne diseases seems to be on uptick. Since the past one decade, there have been massive epidemic outbreaks around the world namely swine flu, yellow fever, dengue and malaria. After the Ebola epidemic generating widespread panic in 2015, now a new epidemic seems to have taken over, popularly known as the Zika Virus.
1. What is the Zika Virus?
Like dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya, Zika is transmitted by the daytime-active Aedes mosquito. Now, whats an Aedes mosquito? When such a mosquito bites a person with an active infection, the virus spreads by biting others. The virus can also spread through blood transfusion and apparently even sexual intercourse. This unusual virus was first identifies in Africa in the year 1947 and has now surfaced and spread promptly across various countries especially in the tropical parts of the American continents like Brazil, Caribbean and Central America.
2. What happens if you are affected?
Be alert! The symptoms of this virus are not grave; in fact few are almost negligible. The symptoms include mild fever, headache, skin rash, joint pain, fatigue and possible pink eye. However, if you happen to be pregnant it could be a cause for worry.They are milder than those affected by its ‘sister’ infections like dengue fever or chikungunya, and you may possibly not know that you have contracted the disease.
3. What caused this outbreak?
According to Brazilian researchers, Zika virus arrived in the country from French Polynesia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament. The spread then followed a pattern similar of chikungunya virus. It is also construed that the El Niño, which is a climate cycle that has recently caused a change in global weather patterns, is partly responsible for the outbreak as these mosquitoes breed in warmer, tropical climate. Brazil has been worst affected by the outbreak after detecting its first case in May. It has since then spread “explosively” to more than 30 countries. With the onset of spring and summer, there is a greater risk that the Zika virus will spread exponentially.
4. Is there a cure?
There is no treatment or vaccine available currently. The only protection against Zika is to avoid travel to areas where the virus has spread rapidly. But if you happen to travel to such a country, the Centres for Disease and Control (CDC) advises strict adherence to mosquito protection measures.
Make sure you checklist the following measures:
- Use bug repellents and mosquito nets
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts thick enough to block a mosquito bite
- Stay in screened rooms
- Empty unused water from tyres, pots or buckets.
However, scientists at a Hyderabad lab claimed to have developed the world’s first vaccine against the Zika Virus. So, there is still hope for a more tangible and medical solution. India is currently one of the 5 nations attempting to develop a vaccine for the virus.
5. What does it have to do with pregnant women?
Although a direct cause and effect relationship between Zika Virus and birth defects hasn’t been established, there are numerous cases observed linking the two. If the mother is infected with Zika Virus, the virus can spread to the unborn child causing a serious birth defect called microcephaly.
This birth defect causes the baby’s brain to be underdeveloped and smaller as compared to the uninfected babies. With over 4,000 cases of microcephaly recorded in Brazil, many Latin American governments have urged women not to get pregnant for up to two years.A drastic and bizarre precaution.
6. Should we be worried?
Currently the most widespread outbreak of Zika virus in history is ongoing in the Americas. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Zika virus has reached Eastern nations like Bangladesh and South Korea. It also claims that the virus can infect as many as four million people in America. The outbreak that began in 2015 has subsequently spread very quickly to 38 other countries. Since the mosquito responsible for spreading Zika Virus thrives in India, India is currently conducting random tests for Zika on the population.
7. Are the authorities doing anything about this?
On 2nd February 2016, WHO declared the outbreak of Zika virus as an international public health emergency. Researchers and scientists around the globe are brainstorming and burning the midnight oil to come create a vaccine to combat the virus and prevent it from further spreading.
They are also strengthening any action that helps control mosquito populations and preparing recommendations for clinical care of people with the Zika virus. Indian authorities have warned pregnant women not to travel to countries affected by Zika virus. They are also expected to start screening those who arrive on flights from Latin America.
Our advice to you for now: Don’t let the bugs bite!