Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitoes. People with Zika virus disease can have symptoms including mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days. There is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Links to other neurological complications are also being investigated.
According to the Communicable Diseases Threats Report released earlier this year by European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control: Despite the decrease in intensity of Zika virus transmission after the 2016 wave, cases are still being reported in the Americas and Asia where the vectors, Aedes mosquitoes, are widely distributed. As neither treatment nor vaccines are available, prevention is based on personal protection measures. Pregnant women should consider postponing non-essential travel to Zika-affected areas.
In 2017, Zika virus cases were detected in India and the government called for thorough investigation and education of the masses. The Zika virus, a public heath emergency that continues to grow, has the potential to cause widespread harm to the health of people in affected areas. India has been upgraded to a country where there is “ongoing transmission that is no longer in the new or re-introduction phase but where there is no evidence of interruption”, from one which only has the vector with no current transmission, in the WHO Zika database, triggering the need for thorough investigation as most cases remain asymptomatic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned.
How bad is the situation?
In February 2016, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern as evidence grew that Zika could cause birth defects as well as neurological problems.
On 15 May 2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare-Government of India (MoHFW) reported three laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika virus disease in Bapunagar area, Ahmedabad District, Gujarat, State, India.
A benign version of the Zika virus, which hit the headlines after an outbreak in several countries in 2015-2016, is likely residing within thousands of people in India and could lead to a public health concern in a few years, says a study by Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology, Pune.
The scientists have cautioned that if India’s Zika strain mutates to more efficiently infect mosquitoes, it could become a major public health problem in the future — in the same way that chikungunya re-emerged in India about a decade ago after years of dormancy.
The scientists say it is possible that the cases are only the “tip of the iceberg,” and there may be many patients who have not developed symptoms.
The virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to her foetus and cause microcephaly and other severe brain anomalies in infants. In adults, it can lead to Gullain-Barre syndrome, in which the body’s immune system attacks nerves, leading to several complications.
What can be done to prevent Zika infection?
Prevention and control relies on reducing mosquitoes through source reduction (removal and modification of breeding sites) and reducing contact between mosquitoes and people. During outbreaks, health authorities may advise that spraying of insecticides be carried out. Insecticides recommended by the WHO Pesticide Evaluation Scheme may also be used as larvicides to treat relatively large water containers.
Basic precautions for protection from mosquito bites should be taken by people traveling to high risk areas, especially pregnant women. These include use of repellents, wearing light colored, long sleeved shirts and pants and ensuring rooms are fitted with screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering.
Due to the risk of Zika infection causing microcephaly and other congenital abnormalities, sexually active men and women should be counselled and offered a range of contraceptive methods to be able to make an informed choice on whether and when to become pregnant. For the women already pregnant, they should receive accurate information on their options to the full extent of the law. In addition because of the risk of sexual transmission, it is critical for men and women to receive counselling on safer sexual practices and be offered condoms. In this respect, WHO has issued guidance on prevention of pregnancy, prevention of sexual transmission of Zika and management of pregnancy.
Prevention for Travellers:
Travellers going to areas with Zika Virus should take meticulous measures to prevent mosquito bites during the daytime. There is currently no preventive medication or vaccine against Zika Virus.
- Use a repellent containing 20%-30% DEET or 20% Picaridin on exposed skin. Re-apply according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Wear neutral-coloured (beige, light grey) clothing. If possible, wear long-sleeved, breathable garments.
- If available, pre-soak or spray outer layer clothing and gear with permethrin.
- Get rid of water containers around dwellings and ensure that door and window screens work properly.
- Apply sunscreen first followed by the repellent (preferably 20 minutes later).
- More details on insect bite prevention.
How do I protect my family from the Zika virus?
We live in a country where battling with mosquitoes is a way of life. Thank god for brands like Goodknight that help keeping mosquitoes at bay. As a mother of two growing children, Goodknight has always been my go-to for combating these pests. I keep the machine on during the day as well so that my home remains protected. When we travel outdoors, I ensure that my children are protected by using the outdoor repellent range. Since prevention is the only way out, this is the least I can do to ensure the safety of my family.
Disclaimer: The above post has been written as an attempt to make people aware of the Zika virus dangers lurking around us. The author is not a medical professional, proper medical advice must be taken before trying any mosquito repellent or related prevention measures suggested here.
- New Indian Express: Scientists sound alert on benign Zika virus hiding in India
- WHO: Zika virus – Factsheet
- Goodknight Blog: Zika Virus And Its Impact On Our Immune System
- International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers: General Health Risks: Zika Virus
- Reports by: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
- Firstpost.in: Zika virus cases detected in India: Thorough investigation, educating masses is need of the hour
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