Zika Virus – What You Should Know

It was no surprise when the World Health Organization termed Zika Virus and its effects in terms of birth defects, a ‘global emergency’ on February 1, 2016. The disease has been steadily on the rise since May 2015, when the first case was detected in Brazil .

Symptoms of Zika Virus

It stars with low-grade fever, accompanied by rash, especially around the neck and chest. In severe cases, you will, in addition to the symptoms above- experience joint pains, sore eyes, and muscle ache. But the condition subsides by itself in about three to seven days. Compared to other forms of fever, the evidences presented so far suggest that Zika fever is comparatively harmless (except for unborn babies). In fact, only a fraction of the population ever experience the symptoms mentioned above; for some, the virus will go away without showing any symptoms.

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zika virus aedes moquito

Zika Virus – Effects

 Only 1 in 5 people who are infected with Zika, actually get sick. In spite of having symptoms that do not seem dangerous, Zika Virus can be detrimental to one’s health, especially for pregnant women, when it manifests in the form of Microcephaly – a disease that cause birth defects in the fetus. In few cases, Zika has been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, which causes weak muscles due to nerve damage. Unborn babies face the highest risk when the virus infects their mothers, especially during the first trimester when their brains are still at the crucial stages of development. While further research is still needed to determine exactly how it happens, there is strong evidence that the Zika Virus causes Microcephaly in fetuses. Microcephaly is a condition whereby a person is born with a smaller than usual head. The condition might be accompanied by mental problems, speech difficulties, dwarfism, and clumsiness, though the number and severity of symptoms vary in patients. Microcephaly has no cure.

The sheer rise in the incidence of the cases of Zika-virus related illnesses has prompted governments of various countries urge pregnant women to avoid traveling to other countries. Brazil and El Salvador have even asked women to not get pregnant till 2018. This is because there is no treatment for this condition. A vaccine to prevent the condition is still awaited. So far, 24 countries have reported suspected cases of infection by Zika Virus.

Zika virus under a microscpe

Zika virus under a microscpe

Zika Virus – History

The Zika virus traces its name from a forest in Uganda with a similar name. Loosely translated from the Luganda language, it means “overgrown”; and just like the overgrown Zika Forest in the landlocked African country, the Zika Virus has shown its determination to conquer the globe.

The discovery of the Zika Virus in 1947 was somehow accidental. During a research on yellow fever, scientists working in Entebbe placed a monkey in a cage inside the forest; the monkey showed signs of fever when they came back for it. On testing, they found a virus in its blood, which they named Zika. Similar tests on fever-stricken humans and monkeys in equatorial regions latter showed the same results.

Today, the Zika Virus has expanded its boundaries from the small equatorial belt it once occupied. It has affected over half of the South America, Africa, India, southern parts of China, and the Island countries dotting the eastern part of the Indian Ocean down to Northern Australia.

 Zika Virus – Affected Countries

zika virus affected areas world

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Calling upon this condition as a global emergency and a pandemic, WHO has also stated that 4 million people in the world can be affected with Zika by the end of 2016. The highest incidence of the disease is in Latin America, followed by the Caribbean Island, parts of Central America and Africa. There has been an increase to the tune of 2301 per cent in Brazil in the years 2014-2015 with Pernambuco being the most affected state in the country. Colombia stated that nearly 2100 pregnant women are afflicted with the virus stating concerns.  There have been 40 cases in the US as on February 2, 2016 with two cases in Australia as well. Some of the 23 countries that are affected by Zika include Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Venezuela,  Ecuador, Samoa, Honduras, Cape Verde and Guatemala.

Zika Virus – Causes

Mosquitoes of the genus Aedes are the main transmitters of the virus. You can identify the Aedes mosquito by its zebra-like coloration of black and white, which occurs throughout their abdomen and legs. Scientists partly attribute the increased spread of Zika Virus to the fact that the Aedes have adapted to subtropical climates; only the Antarctica remains free of them currently. Long ago, the mosquito only survived in the tropical region.

Treatment

No treatment has been developed that directly targets the virus. You can take medication like acetaminophen to reduce pain and fever. It is advisable to avoid NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and aspirin. Avoid dehydration and get rest. It is best to seek help from your health-care provider who will prescribe medication that could avoid any other complication, that may result in case you have any other medical condition.

Conspiracy theory?

Conspiracy theorists have blamed Oxitec, an insect research company based in Britain, for the increasing Zika infections in Brazil.

In 2015, Oxitec released a sterile strain of Aedes mosquito into Juazeiro to combat the mating process of other mosquitoes. Coincidentally, the number of children with microcephaly in the country has increased tremendously since then, even though Oxitec claims that the reproduction rate of Aedes in the region has reduced by up to 95 percent.Critics also state the Zika virus in Brazil might be a mutant strain, Different from that found in Africa and other regions, and that the mutation might have arisen from the different set of conditions in the digestive system of OX513A- the Oxitec mosquito.

 Prevention

Pregnant women have been advised not to travel to high-risk countries with Zika outbreak. Also, it is better to heed the plea of high risk countries to postpone pregnancy plans if you are living in a high-risk country. If you are living in, or planning to visit any of the affected countries, the best prevention measure against Zika virus is avoiding mosquito bites. Insect repellants combined with loose clothing that cover the entire body will greatly help. Also, ensure that you sleep under a treated mosquito net. Practice hygiene at all times and stay clear of areas, which breeds mosquitoes.

WHO recommends using barriers like closed windows, doors, screens and mosquito nets. It also recommends using insect repellents, cleaning and removing water from flower pots, tyres and buckets, where mosquitoes can breed.

Zika Virus – Vaccine

While the world grapples for a vaccine that could save the future of children who can be infected with Microcephaly, India has taken a bold step by patenting a Zika vaccine. Dr. Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Biotech Ltd has stated that they are the first vaccine company in the world to file the patent, nine months ago. With the use of a live Zika virus, the company based in Hyderabad developed two candidate vaccines. However, they are yet to go through animal and human trials. If things go right, the company is expected to make 1 million doses in fourth months.

French drug company SanoFi SA believes that its effective vaccine for dengue fever can work for Zika as well, because the viruses for both the conditions belong to the same family. However, it needs to be tested with the Zika vaccine developed in this manner, could be as effective for people with existing immunity to Dengue. NewLink Genetics Corp has said that it was also working on a vaccine for Zika and that it is collecting data for licensing. GeneOne Life Science Inc, a biopharma company based in South Korea , Invio Pharmaceuticals (biotech company in USA) and GlaxoSmithKline (UK) are also researching towards developing Zika vaccine.

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