The Zika virus is spreading like a wild fire and many people are not even aware of it. Every day, new cases are diagnosed, and several U.S. states are reporting cases of this infectious disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Currently, in early 2016, more outbreaks are occurring in many other countries.
The Zika virus belongs to the flavivirus family and is related to dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and West Nile disease.
This virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, the same mosquitoes that carry dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. The virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected female mosquito.
Those infected with Zika should take steps to prevent getting mosquito bites during the first week of their illness, as the virus is present in the blood and can be easily passed from an infected person back to a mosquito.
An infected mosquito then spreads the virus to other people. In general, the virus is not contagious from person to person.
Although it was first discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947, there is no vaccine or treatment to stop or control outbreaks.
Symptoms and Detection
The incubation period of this viral disease is not clear, but experts believe that it might be a few days. Its symptoms are similar to other infections, such as dengue, and usually last for 2 to 7 days.
According to the WHO, common signs and symptoms include mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis (red eye), muscle and joint pain, malaise and headaches. The symptoms are not chronic and rarely cause death.
However, about 80 percent of people who become infected with this virus do not show any symptoms.
To detect Zika, a blood or tissue sample must be sent to an advanced laboratory. The virus can be detected through sophisticated molecular testing.
Risk to Unborn Children
There is growing evidence that the Zika virus, when contracted during pregnancy, is linked to the birth defect microcephaly (characterized by abnormal smallness of the head).
Microcephaly can lead to mental retardation, as well as delays in speech, movement and growth in newborn babies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women should delay travel to areas where the Zika virus is spreading.
In fact, pregnant women returning from Zika-affected areas should be tested for it, and men with pregnant partners should avoid sexual activities for some time.
Development of a Vaccine
Currently, there is no vaccine against the Zika virus. However, efforts are underway to make a vaccine, which may take several years to create and test for its effectiveness.
Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are working to develop a vaccine and estimate it may take about 10 to 12 years.
Also, Bharat Biotech International, an Indian company, announced that it was working on a vaccine.
Prevention and Control
As vaccination and proper treatment options are not available, it is essential to control the spread of the Zika virus. Some basic preventive measures include:
- Stay away from mosquitoes and their breeding sites.
- Wear clothes that thoroughly cover your body, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Wear light-colored clothing, as dark colors attract mosquitoes.
- Young children, the sick or elderly should remain indoors to avoid mosquito bites, especially during the daytime.
- Keep your home and surrounding area clean to prevent mosquitos from breeding.
- Mosquitoes breed in standing water. Empty or cover containers that can hold water. Discard unneeded items that collect rain or run-off water, like old tires.
- Keep windows and doors closed as much as possible.
- Do not go to a swimming pool, as it can be a breeding site for mosquitoes.
- When travelling to Zika-infected areas, take all precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
- If travelling with a baby or child, keep them dressed properly and use a crib, stroller and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
- Stay in hotels or other places that have air conditioning, as mosquitos cannot survive in a cool atmosphere. If there is no air conditioning, opt for rooms with window and door screens.
- If staying outdoors, sleep under a mosquito bed net. For further protection, stay under a netting even during the daytime as much as possible.
- Avoid outdoor activities at dawn and dusk. Mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus are more active in the daytime than nighttime.
- Use insect repellents approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and use as directed. However, never use these products on babies younger than 2 months of age.
- Women who are pregnant or planning to conceive should avoid travelling to Zika-infected areas, and if required to travel, consult your healthcare provider first.
Tips for People Infected with the Virus
There is no prescription medicine to combat the Zika virus. If you become infected, follow these tips to help speed up your recovery.
- Get plenty of rest to help your body recover as quickly as possible.
- Drink fluids like water, green tea, fruit juice and vegetable soup to prevent dehydration. A well-hydrated body recovers faster.
- Eat foods rich in antiviral properties to help your body fight the infection. Such foods include ginger, garlic, lemon balm, licorice root, and oregano.
- Take over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen, to help reduce fever and body aches.
- Do not take aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can increase the risk of bleeding problems.
- If you are taking medicine for another health condition, always consult your doctor before taking any other medication.