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Zika Virus

    Feb-07-2016

Worldwide people are now concerned over the emergence and spread of the Zika virus, which is threatening millions of lives. However, not everyone is aware of the origin and specific details about this virus, which belongs to the Flaviviridae virus family of the genus Flavivirus. This virus is spread by Aedes mosquitoes like A. aegypti, which are active during the daytime. This virus derives its name from Uganda's Zika Forest where it was isolated for the first time way back in 1947.

The infection caused by Zika virus is called Zika fever. Usually, this condition is not accompanied by any symptom, or if there are any, they are very mild. There are reports of this infection affecting people inhabiting a narrow belt on both sides of the equator in Africa as well as Asia. It was only in 2014 that the Zika virus spread towards the east crossing the Pacific Ocean to affect people in French Polynesia and subsequently to the Easter Island. A year later, in 2015, the virus spread to other areas, including Central America, Mexico, South America and the Caribbean. In these places, the Zika virus outbreak was like an epidemic.

Several health conditions, including yellow fever, dengue, West Nile viruses and Japanese encephalitis, are attributed to the Zika virus. The ailment caused by Zika virus is akin to a mild dengue fever and usually adequate rest helps to treat this condition. Unfortunately, the illness cannot be put off by using drugs or vaccines. In fact, scientists are of the view that Zika virus is possibly related to microcephaly among newborns as it is transmitted from the affected mothers to their offspring. In addition, it is believed that Zika virus has a stronger link with neurologic health conditions in affected adults, counting the incidences of the Guillain-Barré syndrome.

At present there is growing concern about the Zika virus as there have been several reports of birth defects following pregnant women being infected by this virus. As a result, it is strongly advised that pregnant women should adopt additional precautions while traveling to areas where there is a prevalence of Zika virus.

Usually, the typical clinical symptoms help to diagnose infections by Zika virus after one has been bitten by a mosquito in an area where the ailment has reached endemic levels. Infections by this virus are usually confirmed following certain serological tests meant for diagnosing Zika virus immunoglobulins such as IgM and IgG. It may be necessary to repeat these tests again after two to three weeks.

Who gets Zika virus infection?

It has been found that people who have been to tropical areas affected by Zika virus usually get infected by it when they endure a mosquito bite, especially those transmitting the virus. According to rough estimates, about one in every five people (20 percent) who carry the virus develops symptoms associated with Zika virus infection.

As of now, there are no mosquitoes carrying Zika virus in New Zealand. However, it has been found that only people who have traveled to areas affected by the virus recently get Zika virus infection. These affected areas include countries in South East Asia, the Pacific Islands, Central America and South America, including the Caribbean.

Origin and spread of Zika virus

A small, sphere-shaped enclosed RNA virus with a single strand, Zika virus is a member of family Flaviviridae belonging to genus Flavivirus. This virus was described for the first time in humans in Nigeria in the 1960s. Outside Africa, Zika virus was first reported in 2007 following report of a case on Micronesia's Island of Yap. There are various potential factors that are responsible for the spread of Zika virus.

Overpopulated areas that often lead to insufficient housing facilities as well as public health amenities, including water, waste management and sewerage is one of the possible reasons for the spread of Zika virus. In addition, poor vector control, for instance stagnant water pools that are ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes may also result in the spread of Zika virus.

In some cases, climate change, for instance augmented transmission of virus has been related to El Nino conditions, may also encourage the spread of Zika virus. One may also be infected by Zika virus owing to frequent international travels (either business, recreational or military purposes) to areas when the condition has reached endemic proportions.

It has been found that among all mosquitoes belonging to the Aedes species, Aedes aegypti is most active in transmitting Zika virus from infected people to healthy individuals. Aedes mosquitoes are found breeding in and in the region of stagnant water ponds where there are human settlements and they generally bite during the daytime. When an individual is infected by the Zika virus, it circulates in the blood stream for about 10 days before the occurrence of symptoms. It is likely that Aedes mosquitoes acquire Zika virus when there is daylight and subsequently bite as well as infect unwary and susceptible victims.

A woman infected with Zika virus may transmit the illness to her baby during childbirth. This infection can also be transmitted during sexual intercourse, provided one of the partners is infected by Zika virus.

Clinical features of Zika virus infection

It is worth mentioning here that the symptoms of Zika virus infection appear roughly 10 days after an individual has been bitten by Aedes mosquitoes. The initial symptoms of this ailment (if any) include headaches, chills, mild fever, muscle and joint aches, conjunctivitis (reddish eyes) and rash. In addition, there are a few non-specific symptoms, including headache, vomiting, exhaustion, abdominal pain and even malaise.

Among the various symptoms of Zika virus infection, rash is an important feature. These rashes are flat and rough spots (known as maculopapular in medical terms). They are either small spots (morbilliform) or even smaller spots (scarlatiniform). After two to three days, the rash begins to disappear and completely fades away within a week.

While the rash covers the entire body, the patient's eyes turn reddish and painful. In some cases, they may also become sensitive to light.

Complications of Zika virus

The ailment known as Guillain-Barré syndrome is an unusual condition and it is actually a form of paralysis that begins very rapidly. Usually, this condition is set off a few days to some weeks before an infection. In fact, the first instance of Zika virus infection wherein the condition of the patient worsened following the onset of Guillain-Barré syndrome was reported in March 2014 from French Polynesia. Subsequently, such cases were also reported from Brazil, but it seldom resulted in the death of the patient.

Birth defects

As of now, scientists have not been able to ascertain the threat of damage caused to a fetus due to Zika virus infection.

In fact, there has been a rise in birth defects in newborns during the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil, where the condition has assumed endemic proportions. It has been reported that several babies were born recently with small heads (a condition known as Fetal microcephaly).

Intracranial calcifications (deposit of calcium in the brain)

Currently health authorities in various countries are trying to find a possible association between pregnant women with Zika virus infection and their babies enduring microcephaly. Therefore, it is advisable that pregnant women or those planning to get pregnant ought to adopt some additional precaution to shield themselves from mosquitoes until scientists and health authorities succeed in discovering more details.

In case you are already pregnant and believe that you may have been infected by Zika virus, you should check with your physician right away for keeping you under close observation throughout your pregnancy.

In fact, microcephaly is an exceptional health condition wherein babies have unusually small heads. Such peculiarly small heads of the babies are attributed to unusual development of the fetus inside the womb or during their infancy. Often, babies and even small children suffering from microcephaly face various challenges as they grow older, especially regarding their brain development.

Various factors can be responsible for microcephaly, including environmental as well as genetic issues like Downs syndrome. In addition, it may also occur owing to the fetus coming in contact with toxins, alcohol and/ or drugs. Another possible reason for microcephaly is rubella infection (also known as German measles) during pregnancy.

Treatment of Zika virus infection

As of now, Zika virus infection is not curable. Scientists are currently probing the factors responsible for this condition and the possible ways to treat it.

Generally, Zika virus infection is self-limiting and this condition can be resolve through supportive therapy. For instance, you can use paracetamol (acetaminophen) for treating patients enduring fever. However, using aspirin or any NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) is strictly unadvisable in such conditions. Drinking lots of water and adequate rest will support recovery.

People who have been infected by Zika virus or those who suffered from Zika virus infection some time back should never donate blood. This is mainly because blood donation by such people may transmit the virus to the recipient. In addition, such people should also be careful and steer clear of mosquito bites to help in reducing the chances of spreading the ailment to healthy individuals.

How to prevent Zika virus infection

Concerned over the rapid spread of Zika virus, more and more people are now eager to know how they can put off being infected by this virus. Perhaps, the most effective means to avoid Zika virus infections is to stop the virus from spreading by using vector control. In other words, you can prevent Zika virus infection by destroying or checking the sites which are ideal breeding places for these mosquitoes. It has been found that mosquitoes that carry Zika virus usually have a preference to breed in synthetic containers as well as receptacles that contain water and are found near human settlements or buildings. You can adopt various methods to prevent or lessen the breeding of these mosquitoes. Some of these effective methods are discussed briefly below.

In order to avoid spread of Zika virus you should shut the lids of all cisterns, water tanks, barrels, rubbish bins or containers as well as other similar things tightly so that mosquitoes are unable to get inside them and breed. At the same time you need to get rid of or empty water from old bottles, tin cans, tires, trays and so on. Also examine and clean all congested gutters and flat roofs, which have the potential to block water. In addition, change the water in plant trays, birdbaths, and pet water dishes frequently.

One effective way of preventing the mosquitoes from breeding is to introduce any larvivorous fish (for instance guppy) to your ornamental aquariums. These types of fishes consume the larvae of mosquitoes. You should also ensure that you cut back all tall grasses and weeds because when mosquitoes become adults, they usually seek shade and shelter in tall grasses when the climatic conditions become hot.

As far as safeguarding one from mosquito bites is concerned, you need to do a few things like wearing long sleeves and long pants. In addition, it is recommended that you mount secure screens to your doors and windows with a view to prevent mosquitoes from entering your homes. It is also advisable that you use an effective insect repellent like DEET.

At the same time, always ensure that you sleep under mosquito nets or curtains. This is especially important when anyone, including children, are resting or sleeping during the daytime, because it has been found that Aedes mosquitoes usually bite and spread the infection till there is sunlight. If you are residing in any high risk area, you need to use insecticide sprays often to eliminate the disease-bearing mosquitoes.

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