Zika virus is a type of arbovirus which is transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, particularly those from the tropical regions. Even though the Zika virus has been known since 1947, its outbreak became noticeable in 2015, much later than other viruses from the same family such as Chikungunya and dengue.
Zika outbreak was first recognized in Brazil when the health authorities noticed a strange and a sharp increase in the number of babies born with unusually smaller heads, a condition called microcephaly. The link between Microcephaly and Zika was researched and confirmed.
This article answers some of the important questions about Zika virus that most people are concerned about and what everyone should know.
How is the Zika virus transmitted?
A mosquito bite is the primary source of the Zika virus infection. There is also evidence that the secondary infection may spread through blood transfusion and sexual contact with an infected individual. The Zika virus can also spread from an infected mother to the developing fetus.
What are the symptoms of Zika virus infection?
A majority of patients infected by the Zika virus do not show any symptoms at all. However, a few people may show one or several of the following symptoms:
- Red eyes or conjunctivitis
- Water retention in feet
- Joint pain
These symptoms may last for a few days or a week at the maximum and do not require hospitalization. However, in case the symptoms persist for a longer duration of time or if someone has just returned from abroad and develops these signs, then a visit to a doctor is recommended.
How is Zika infection diagnosed and treated?
People suspected to be infected by the Zika virus are tested in health government testing laboratories, in addition to a few designated centres at the state and national level. There are no commercially available diagnostic tests available for Zika infection yet.
People suspected to be infected by the Zika virus should also be tested for other infections, such as Chikungunya and dengue to rule out the possibility.
What should be done to prevent Zika infection?
The best prevention against Zika is preventing mosquito bites and to avoid sexual contact with a person infected by the virus.
Some tips to avoid Zika infection:
- Avoid travelling to Zika-infected regions such as the Caribbean, Mexico, South America and Central America.
- Cover exposed regions of the skin and use a mosquito repellent when necessary.
- Make use of condoms or avoid getting sexually intimate with a partner who has recently travelled to a Zika-infected country.
- Make sure to destroy all mosquito-breeding places such as stagnant water, flower pots and buckets.
- Spay insecticides wherever necessary.
What are the Zika prevention guidelines for pregnant women?
Pregnant women should take all measures to protect themselves against a mosquito bite. Pregnant women must also use a condom or other sexual barriers while having sex in case their partner has travelled to a Zika-infected country in the last three months.
In addition, pregnant women should take the following steps:
- Get tested for potential Zika virus exposure during the routine visit to a gynaecologist.
- Get testes in the first and second trimester in case they live in or have been to Zika-infected regions.
- Undergo fetal ultrasounds and amniocentesis in case Zika is suspected, but not confirmed.
Couples planning a pregnancy should wait for at least eight months before conceiving in case they have been to a Zika-hit country in the last three months.
How can people who frequently travel abroad prevent themselves from getting infected?
People who cannot avoid visiting a country affected by the Zika virus should try and stay indoors during the daytime. In addition, pregnant women or those planning to get pregnant should completely avoid travelling to the countries worst hit by the virus.
Both men and women who have travelled to Zika-infected countries should speak to their doctor in case they are planning a pregnancy, even through In vitro fertilization (IVF).
People travelling to high-risk countries should always carry a mosquito repellent and treat their shoes, clothes and other belongings with an insecticide.