Contributed by – Healthians Team

A lot is spoken about Zika virus. But, what exactly is Zika virus and why is it such a huge cause of concern? Initially Zika virus was not considered as a threat to health but widespread of the disease has been an opinion changer. Did you know that Zika virus is capable of causing birth defects in new borns and puts the unborn child of an infected woman at high risk?

India too is no stranger to this virus, the recent outbreaks of Zika virus cases has left everyone in dismay. Not very different from dengue and chikungunya, Zika virus is hard to identify in the start, therefore it essential to know about the disease.  Knowledge about the infection will not only help in dealing and identifying the infection but also in preventing it. Let us together understand the important facts and details related with Zika virus.

Zika Virus- The Origin 

Zika virus first identified among the monkeys in Uganda in 1947. The infection later on spread to the human communities and the first victims were identified in 1952. In the years to follow, several outbreaks of the infections were reported in various countries across the globe. The recent rise in the cases of Zika virus has raised the alarm  and made the need for raising an awareness about this infection a necessity.

Spread Of Zika Virus

Zika virus mainly spreads through the bite of the infected female mosquito Aedes species. The female mosquito is also the carrier of dengue and chikungunya virus. These mosquitoes are most active during the day, particularly early morning ,late afternoon and evening. Zika is an infection that affects people in varying severity. For most people the infection may affect mildly and may last for upto a week while for some there may be no symptoms at all.

Zika infection affects the pregnant women and the infection passes to the unborn foetus causing birth deformities and miscarriages. Zika virus is also capable of spreading  from an infected person through sexual contact.

A complete guidebook on Zika virus

Symptoms Of Zika

Zika has similar symptoms as flu and other viral infections. The most common symptoms identified with Zika virus are:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Burning sensation and redness of eyes
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Body rash
  • Itching
  • Body and muscle pain
  • Back pain
  • Joint pains with swelling

In some cases, Zika virus infection can also trigger neuropathy, myelitis and Guillian-Barre Syndrome (GBS), especially in elders and children.

Pregnant women infected with Zika virus can take ugly turn. The virus can cause complications in pregnancy resulting in preterm birth, stillbirth or even foetal loss. There have been evidences that Zika infection can cause microcephalyor varying degrees of brain damage and other birth defects affecting the unborn foetus and also the new-born. It can result in malformations like high muscle tone, limb contractures, abnormalities of the eye and hearing loss.

Diagnosis Of Zika Virus

The signs and symptoms can be suggestive of the possibility of Zika. It is best to seek medical assistance for proper and correct diagnosis based on the medical, personal or travel history and clinical examination. Blood and urine tests can also help identify the infection. But, it is best to seek medical help incase of appearance of any of the above mentioned symptoms.

Protect yourself from Zika virus

Prevention Of  Zika Virus

There is no specific treatment or cure available for Zika. The treatment is basically symptomatic or treatment of the symptoms. The physician may prescribe medicines to bring relief to the condition. The only way to fight Zika is to prevent spread of the infection. Being aware, sharing the right information and counselling, if needed, can help in avoiding Zika. Below are such list of ways in which all of us can stay prepared and avoid the the unwelcome Zika virus.

Preventing mosquito bites

Aedes mosquito acts as the carrier of Zika virus which makes protection from mosquitoes really important. It is necessary to protect yourself from mosquito bites and the best ways to prevent Zika infection. Preventing mosquito bites needs special attention in case of pregnant women and young children. Some important ways to prevent mosquito bites include:

  • Wear light coloured clothing that covers most of the body
  • Use mosquito nets, protection on window screens and doors can help
  • Use mosquito repellent creams on skin or sprays on clothing can offer personal protection
  • Aedes mosquito breed in stagnated water, it is important to keep surroundings clean and free from any standing water in containers, flower pots or at places around homes or work place. Such areas, gardens and other common places that can breed mosquito must be treated with mosquito sprays
  • Community initiatives and regular programs are usually undertaken by local bodies and health authorities to spray pesticides and larvicides to reduce mosquito breeding, thus controlling the spread of Zika infection

Preventing Spread

The other commonest way that causes spread of infection and can be prevented is travelling to other areas. As Zika can spread easily, it is best to prevent its transmission by controlling travel and following travel guidelines for areas with risk of Zika.

  • It is advisable for those who are infected with Zika
  • It is best if pregnant women avoid travelling to areas with Zika
  • For others travelling to such areas must take appropriate precautions to prevent mosquito bites during their travel

Preventing sexual transmission

You can prevent spread of Zika virus by preventing sexual transmission and by having protected sex. Consistent and correct use of condoms can help in preventing spread of infection. Particular care must be taken in case of pregnant women or abstain from sexual activity during pregnancy, to prevent spread of infection.

Preventing Zika in pregnancy

As Zika has several complications pregnant women and congenital Zika syndrome affecting new-borns, it is necessary to take necessary steps.

  • Owing to the rising concern of Zika, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women infected with or having symptoms of Zika should wait for at least eight weeks before planning for a baby
  • It also advisable that men with symptoms of Zika must wait for six months before having unprotected sex

While these are some ways to prevent Zika infection, it is also necessary to identify the presence of infection in a person, so as to control the spread. Hence, if you note symptoms of Zika seek medical advice. Diagnosis can be confirmed with laboratory tests in addition to symptoms; so get them done, as advised.