Zika virus is spreading at a rapid pace everywhere. According to WHO (World Health Organisation), it is ‘spreading explosively’. Global health officials are saying that the virus that’s linked to birth defects in thousands of new-born babies in Brazil is spreading like wildfire towards America and could end up infecting 3 to 4 million people. While people race against time to find a vaccine for the terrible virus, here are some answers to questions you always wanted to ask about Zika virus and the current outbreak.
What is Zika virus?
Zika is a disease caused by the Zika virus and spreads to people from a mosquito bite. Most newborns whose mothers have had the virus are suffering from Microcephaly – a disorder where the baby’s head is much smaller and underdeveloped.
How does it spread to people?
Like mentioned before, the virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected female Aedes mosquito, the same kind that spreads dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Spreading explosively in the Americas right now, The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is saying that the mosquitoes can be found in all countries in the Americas except for Canada and continental Chile. The virus is likely to reach countries in the region when Aedes mosquitoes are found.
What are the symptoms of Zika?
People who have Zika virus typically have a mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, constant muscle fatigue and joint pain from anywhere between two to seven days. The scariest bit, however, is the fact that as many as 80 percent of people infected never develop a symptom strong enough to suspect anything.
Can people die because of it?
Not that we know of right now. The PAHO said there is no evidence that Zika can cause deaths but there have been some serious complications reported in patients who are already suffering from a medical condition.
There’s also microcephaly, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system. Scientists are studying whether there is a causal link between Zika and these two disorders.
What’s the connection with microcephaly?
To tell you more in detail, microcephaly is a condition marked by an abnormally small head and brains that haven’t developed properly in a newborn. Although scientists haven’t really found a direct relationship between Zika and birth defects, it is strongly suspected. Brazil has reported around 3,700 cases of possible microcephaly that might be linked with Zika. Research in Brazil shows that the risk of microcephaly is the highest during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Is India at risk?
Not yet, but we’d be foolish to ignore it considering what’s at stake here. Since the mosquito is found in abundance in the country, and dengue is a problem India faces every year, we fall in the most dangerous zone for Zika virus to spread.
How do you treat Zika?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment or vaccine available for Zika. Companies and scientists are racing against time to develop a safe and effective vaccine, but it’s not expected to be ready for months or years.
Can it be contained?
Efforts are being made to control the spread of the virus. Authorities are focusing on eliminating the breeding grounds of the mosquito and taking precautions against mosquito bites by using insect repellent and mosquito nets. Expecting mothers have been advised to avoid visiting Latin American and Caribbean countries where they might be exposed to Zika.
Which countries are fighting the Zika outbreak?
According to WHO, Zika has been reported in 23 countries in the Americas. While Brazil remains the most affected nation, other countries, and territories include Barbados, Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Venezuela and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the PAHO.
How did it all start?
The Zika virus is found in tropical locales that have a larger population of mosquitoes. Outbreaks have been reported in South Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Western Pacific. The virus was first identified and reported in Uganda back in 1947 in rhesus monkeys. In 1952, the virus was reported in humans for the first time in Uganda and Tanzania as per the WHO.
Can the virus be transmitted sexually?
Although there has been a case reported where the virus was transmitted via sexual contact, PAHO says it needs more evidence to confirm if sexual contact is a mode of Zika transmission. There is no evidence if Zika can be transmitted to babies through breast milk either.
With inputs from Reuters.
All images have been sourced from Reuters.