Zika Virus has now been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization, but what is Zika, what does it do, and how do you avoid it? Your top 10 questions are answered here.
1. What is Zika virus?
First identified in rhesus monkeys in Uganda n 1947, Zika is a virus that is transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Previous outbreaks of Zika have occurred in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific.
2. How is Zika virus transmitted?
Zika is transmitted primarily through mosquito bites, specifically from the Aedes aegypti mosquito, found mainly in tropical regions. It has now also been reported that Zika virus is present in sperm, suggesting that there is the potential for sexual transmission from an infected individual.
3. What symptoms does it cause?
Many times those infected with Zika will have no symptoms at all. However, some of the common symptoms of a Zika virus infection are fever, rash, headache, muscle & joint pain, or conjunctivitis.
4. How is Zika virus treated?
There is currently no treatment for Zika virus, however symptoms can be treated with over the counter pain relievers.
5. Why is it so dangerous for pregnant women?
Due to a rise in babies born with microcephaly in Brazil at the same time there was a Zika outbreak, it is thought that Zika infection in pregnant women can result in microcephaly in their babies. Microcephaly is a condition where babies have an unusually small head, also associated with poor brain development. While there is a strong correlation between Zika virus outbreak and the rate of microcephaly in infants, a specific cause and effect has not yet been scientifically proven.
6. What should you do if you are pregnant and think you may have been infected with Zika?
If you suspect you have been infected with Zika virus you should speak with your healthcare provider. Regular ultrasounds and biological sample testing will help determine whether Zika virus infection occurred and whether there is any detrimental effect to the fetus.
7. What can I do to prevent Zika infection?
Since Zika is transmitted primarily through mosquitoes present in specific regions, the best way to prevent Zika infection is to stay away from areas where these mosquitoes are present. If this is not possible, preventing mosquito bites, by wearing appropriate clothing, use of screens or mosquito nets, and repellants are likely to help prevent Zika infection.
8. Are there any vaccines to protect against Zika?
There are efforts to develop a vaccine against Zika virus at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, and GeneOne Life Science of South Korea. The vaccine is already in clinical production, with Phase I clinical trials estimated to begin by mid-late summer.
9. In which countries is Zika present?
10. What are the current travel recommendations?
As of February 1, 2016 the World Health Organization recommended no travel restrictions due to Zika virus. However, that travellers take recommended precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
For the most current information about Zika virus, see www.cdc.gov/zika.
World Health Organization: Zika Fact Sheet Available from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/ Last Accessed: February 8, 2016
“Questions your patients may have about Zika virus” BMJ 2016; 352 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i649 (Published 02 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i649 http://www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.i649
“Zika vaccine could be in production by year’s end, says maker” BMJ 2016; 352 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i630 (Published 01 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i630
Image courtesy of World Health Organization http://www.who.int/emergencies/zika-virus/situation-report/en/
The high–level recommendations made by the Emergency Committee: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2016/1st-emergency-committee-zika/en/