Image credit: Flickr, zika virus
Image credit: Flickr

Zika virus is a virus spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes species variety. This is the same breed responsible for transmitting other viral diseases such as chikungunya, yellow fever and dengue. In a few rare cases, sexual activity has also been termed responsible for Zika virus transmission. The virus’ presence is usually confirmed through a laboratory testing, wherein Zika virus RNA’s presence in the blood, urine or saliva is checked. If in the blood, the virus can transfer to a preying mosquito. And the infected mosquito ends up spreading the Zika virus to any individual it bites.

History

Though the virus caught global attention with its outbreaks in French Polynesia (2013) and Brazil (2015), the virus is as old as 1947. The first case was identified in 1947 in rhesus monkeys of Uganda during a yellow fever research. The monkey’s serum had a transmissible agent, which was initially referred to as Zika virus. Humans first tested positive for the virus in 1952, in Tanzania and Uganda. Subsequent outbreaks have been reported in Africa, Asia, Americas and the Pacific until 1981. However, these cases went unnoticed because they were sporadic and didn’t affect a much larger population at once.

Brazil on Alert

After the 2014 football world cup, Brazil was on high alert due to reports of a new virus’ introduction. The FIFA event was claimed responsible because it brought together people from different parts of the world. However, since no country from the Pacific Islands participated in the event, the connection was ruled out. The international canoe competition that took place in Rio de Janeiro in 2014 was also suspected to be the reason behind Zika virus spread in Brazil since the event had several competitors from different Pacific Islands.

Zika Virus Transmission

  • Mosquitoes: When a non-infected female mosquito bites (male mosquitoes don’t bite) the infected, the virus moves into the mosquito’s gut via the circulatory system. It then heads to the mosquito’s salivary glands and gets passed onto the mosquito’s next human victim.   
  • Sexual Intercourse: Pregnant women having sexual contact with an infected individual’s semen may contract the virus. Infected men or those having recently returned from any regions with Zika transmission should put on condoms during sex. Though there are no clear timeline as to how long the condom should be worn, a minimum of a month is recommended. 

Generally, the virus doesn’t stay in the body. Individuals who have been infected before and recovered turn immune to the virus.

Symptoms and Signs

The virus symptoms are similar to other similar viral infections (for instance, dengue and chikungunya). The following are the common symptoms that typically last a few days (2-7 days):

  • Skin rashes
  • Fever
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Headache
  • Malaise

The resulting fever or illness isn’t serious enough for hospitalized care. Also, the infected rarely succumb to the virus.

Risks/ Complications

Pregnant women infected with the virus are likely to give birth to babies with a serious brain defect called microcephaly. It is a medical condition wherein the baby has a noticeably smaller head than average, in addition to a damaged brain. However, the link between microcephaly and Zika virus is not yet established. The sudden spike in microcephaly cases in Brazil during the Zika virus outbreak led to this speculation.

A Brazilian baby born with microcephaly in 2016. Image credit: Flickr
A Brazilian baby born with microcephaly in 2016. Image credit: Flickr

Treatment

There aren’t specific medicines or drugs available for treating the infection. Prevention is the best cure. In other words, preventing mosquito bites when in infected areas is the best way to avoid the infection. If infected, the following resorts should help subside or completely cure the symptoms:

  • Plenty of physical and mental rest.
  • Fluid intake to prohibit dehydration.
  • For relieving pain and fever, drugs such as acetaminophen can come handy.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as aspirin are not recommended. Also, if currently on medication for another condition, Zika virus medicines must be taken after doctor consultation.