With 100 confirmed cases in India already, there may not be much of a reason to worry yet, but all necessary precautions must be taken to ensure that this does not become another epidemic as it did in Central and South America a couple of years ago. To intensify control measures, the Centre has sent an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) team to Jaipur, which is the hotbed of the latest Zika outbreak.

What is the Zika virus?

Zika Virus is a virus from the Flaviviridae virus family. It was first found in the Ziika forest in Uganda in 1947(which is where it gets its name from). This virus thrives in the equatorial belt and at altitudes under 6500ft, making India a very sustainable environment for a Zika epidemic.

Global aedes egypti distribution 1- Areas with greatest risk of contracting Zika. 0- areas with least risk of contracting Zika virus (Source- elifesciences.org)

How does this disease spread?

The Zika virus disease is mainly carried by mosquitoes, in particular, the infected Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes. Unhygienic or moist areas promote the growth of these mosquitoes, thus increasing the risk of transmission.  This virus can be sexually transmitted and can cross a pregnant woman’s placenta and affect the foetus too.  Blood transfusions are another method of transmission.

Zika virus flyer 2016 (source- john hopkins medicine)

How does one know if he/she is infected? 

Most people don’t even have symptoms. Commonly reported mild symptoms are-

  • Rashes
  • Itching sensations all over the body
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain behind the eyes

What does the Zika virus do?

The disease can cause Guillain- Barre syndrome, a serious nervous system condition of the nervous system, which causes paralysis.

Zika virus infection is a cause of birth defects, like microcephaly (the baby has an abnormally small head and probable abnormal brain development). Pregnant women are especially at risk of contracting this infection. The confirmed fatality rate in Brazil was around 8.3%.

(source cdc.gov)

What precautions can one take?

The Statistics Portal states that there were around 1.4 billion people in Asia who were living in areas environmentally suitable for the transmission of Zika virus(2015).

There is no vaccine or specific treatment yet. People, especially pregnant women, should seek travel health advice from their doctors. They should refrain from travelling to countries which have contracted the virus or at a high risk of contracting it.

The most effective bite-prevention methods are-

  • Use insect repellent that contains DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) on exposed skin, after applying sunscreen. It should not be applied to babies younger than 2 months.
  • Wear loose clothes that cover your arms and legs.
  • Sleep under a mosquito net, if possible.
  • Ensure that you are as hygienic as possible, and avoid unhygienic areas and foods

Get yourself tested regularly, just to be on the safer side.

To summarise, the Zika virus isn’t a huge threat yet, but all precautions must be taken to ensure that it does not become one. Stay healthy, stay safe!

 

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