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Zika Virus

Dr. Ajay Mohan (AIIMS)MBBS

May 15, 2020

May 15, 2020

Zika Virus
Zika Virus

Similar to vector-borne diseases such as dengue, yellow feverchikungunya and West Nile virus, Zika virus infection is spread through the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and is mostly seen in tropical and subtropical places in the world. The Zika virus can also be transmitted by expecting mothers to their babies.

The virus is named after the Zika Forest in Uganda, where it was first discovered in 1947. It has since spread to other countries. Zika virus led to a deadly epidemic in 2015-16.

The 2015 outbreak of Zika fever occurred in Brazil and other parts of South America, North America, along the Pacific and in Southeast Asia. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the epidemic to be over by 2016, isolated incidents of patients affected by the virus continued to emerge until 2017.

Read more: The world’s deadliest viral infections

In most patients, the symptoms of Zika virus infection aren’t even visible. But those with severe illness have reported high fever, red rashes on the skin and joint pain, among other symptoms. 

In cases where pregnant women who are infected have passed the virus on to the foetus, symptoms in babies include birth defects such as microcephaly, where the child is born with an underdeveloped or smaller head or even brain damage.

Zika virus is also known to cause neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barre syndrome.

There have been few cases of disease transmission through sexual intercourse, and even fewer via blood transfusion.

Although the virus seems to have been contained, countries routinely issue travel advisories, including for pregnant women, to avoid travel to Zika-affected countries.

Zika virus symptoms

As many as 80% of the people infected by the Zika virus do not present with any of the symptoms. However, those who do have mild symptoms also seem to present them 3 to 14 days after being bitten by the Zika-carrying mosquito (according to WHO). The symptoms include:

Zika virus transmission

While the Zika virus is primarily a vector-borne disease, it spreads through:

  • The bite of an infected Aedes mosquito.
  • Infection during pregnancy can be transmitted to newborn babies, which causes deformities such as microcephaly or other congenital malformations including congenital Zika syndrome
  • Zika virus is also spread through vaginal, oral or anal sex
  • Blood transfusion

Prevention of Zika virus

While there is no vaccine against the Zika virus, you can take precautions to avoid the disease and prevent its spread:

  • Apply mosquito repellents with at least a 10% concentration of DEET (N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) on the skin after applying sunscreen lotion. However, this preventive measure should not be used on babies younger than two months.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing, including full-sleeved shirts and trousers, keeping most parts of the body covered. Do this especially if there are a lot of mosquitoes in your area or if you are travelling through a mosquito-infested area.
  • Sleep under mosquito nets and avoid places with standing water which can be breeding grounds for mosquitos.
  • Wear condoms to reduce the risk of infection or spreading the Zika virus if you or your partner has travelled to an area that has had a Zika virus outbreak, or avoid all sexual contact for a couple of weeks.
  • Pregnant women are advised not to travel to countries that have had a recent history of Zika virus outbreak, to reduce the chances of transmission to the mother as well as the foetus.

Diagnosis of Zika virus

Doctors are able to suspect the presence of Zika virus infection based on the patient's symptoms and through their travel history of having visited an area that had Zika virus transmission or has a large presence of mosquitos. However, a blood test or urine test is usually required to diagnose Zika virus infection.

Zika virus treatment

With no vaccine and no treatment available for Zika virus infection, most patients are treated for the symptoms they develop. As symptoms in most cases are mild, common medicines to reduce fever and pain, and supportive medical care are enough to manage patients. Patients are also advised to get plenty of rest and drink a lot of fluids, but alert their doctors if the symptoms persist or worsen.

Zika virus complications

Complications from Zika virus include miscarriage or preterm birth. It can also cause neurological disorders such as the Guillain-Barré syndrome, neuropathy and myelitis. 

Congenital Zika syndrome can lead to birth defects such as microcephaly (children born with smaller or underdeveloped heads), brain damage, eye damage (vision problems in babies), reduced motion due to joint problems or limited movement due to excessive muscle tone after birth.



References

  1. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Zika virus
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; About Zika
  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine [Internet]. The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System; Zika virus
  4. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; Zika virus
  5. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; One year into the Zika outbreak: how an obscure disease became a global health emergency

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