Zika virus is a contagious disease that can easily spread through mosquito bites from one person to another. Usually, it develops with no or very few symptoms. However, it can be fatal if it is transmitted through a pregnant woman to her child during pregnancy. If this happens it can lead to severe birth defects in the affected child known as Microcephaly, a condition in which a baby born with an abnormally small head and brain.
Aedes aegypti species mosquitoes are responsible for this infectious disease growth and transmission that are prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world. It bites during the day time. The Zika virus disease develops usually with mild symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, rash, and conjunctivitis that lasts typically for 2 to 7 days.
The Zika virus disease emerged as an outbreak in the year 2015 causing massive infection cases in Northeast Brazil. After this first outbreak just within 2 years' time, a massive spike documented in the number of Microcephaly cases in the outbreak region which was truly alarming. 476 Cases were reported in Colombia alone in its 33 surveillance sites whereas in Brazil more than 3000 microcephaly births were reported caused by Zika fever.
This tremendous health loss even led Governments to take active initiatives regarding creating public awareness with regard to how this disease spreads and how it can be prevented. Researches are going on to discover a vaccine for the Zika virus, for preventing this mosquito-borne viral infection disease growth. Till then the best prevention measure would be to prevent mosquitoes from habitat inside and around houses and preventing mosquito bites by actively using the mosquito bites protection measures.
In most of the cases, people who get infected with the Zika virus do not develop any signs or symptoms. However in cases where symptoms occur it usually starts after two to seven days of an infected mosquito bite. In such cases the symptoms of Zika virus disease include-
- Mild fever
- Muscle or joint pain
Apart from these primary signs of this disease some other Zika virus infection signs and symptoms include-
- Reddened eyes or conjunctivitis
In most cases, people recover completely and their symptoms disappear totally about a week's time.
The primary source or reason for transmission of the Zika virus is the bite of an infected Aedes family mosquito which can easily found in different parts of the world. Zika virus is a flavivirus that is related to Yellow fever, Dengue fever, West Nile, and Japanese Encephalitis Viruses. The Zika virus was first recognized in the Zika Forest of Uganda in the year 1947. However, the outbreaks mishap occurred in Southern and Southeastern Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific Islands.
When an Aedes species mosquito bites a Zika virus-infected person, the virus immediately enters its body making it infected. So when this infected mosquito bites to a healthy person the virus easily enters that person’s bloodstream making him infected with this viral disease.
Apart from mosquito bites, another vital source of transmission of this virus into the human body is blood transfusions and organ transplantation may cause person to person transmission of this virus. However, this kind of virus transmission case is rare.
Another possible way of this virus spread is from a Zika virus-infected pregnant woman to her fetus and in special circumstances, the transmission is possible through unprotected sexual contact with a Zika virus-infected partner. About 1 out of 5 patients who develop Zika virus disease develops its symptoms.
When to contact a doctor
You should immediately consult with a doctor if you or your family member have a recent journey to Zika virus outbreak areas and you are noticing some of the signs mentioned above of this infection. The doctor will ask you for blood tests that are guided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Zika virus and other such viruses detection that are spread by the same type of mosquitoes bites such as Chikungunya, Dengue viruses, etc.
Factors that increase any person’s risk of developing Zika virus disease include-
People Living or Travelling in Outbreaks Area
Anyone living in tropical and subtropical areas throughout the world has a higher risk of contracting the virus that causes Zika virus disease. Out of the high-risk regions includes many islands of the Pacific region, islands near West Africa, and many countries in Central, North, and South America. Apart from these areas of the world possibilities of future outbreaks are there in new regions because the mosquitoes that borne the Zika virus are found all around the world.
Apart from the residents of the outbreak regions of the Zika virus the infection intensity and risk are also high for people who travel to these outbreak regions in the world. The Aedes species mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus are also found in some parts of the United States. However, the local transmission rate of this virus is very less in number and in limited areas of the United States with a comparison to the travelers returning to the United States from an outbreak area.
People Indulging in Unprotected Sex
The Zika virus can easily spread from an infected person to another person through sexual interaction. This can happen between male sex partners as well as male and female sexual partners if they have an unprotected sexual interaction.
The CDC strongly recommends using Condoms if a couple of visits to a Zika virus outbreak area or regions where there is Zika risk. Also, CDC suggests avoiding sexual interaction for the next three months to all couples traveling to Zika risk areas in the world.
CDC also suggests avoiding sexual interaction with a female partner who has had a recent visit in Zika risk areas for at least 2 months or using a condom is a must if sexual interaction happens. For pregnant women, the CDC suggests using a condom or avoid sexual intimacy completely especially with the male partner who lives or travels to the Zika virus outbreaks areas. This is important not only for the protection of woman herself but her unborn baby’s health as well.
Zika virus infection can cause the following health complications-
- Zika Virus Disease Complications During Pregnancy- If a pregnant woman develops Zika virus infection then the disease has the potential to cause miscarriage. Also if an infected woman manages to give birth then the baby born with birth defects including Microcephaly that is a fatal brain health condition.
- Congenital Zika Syndrome- The Zika virus infection has potential to cause different congenital Zika syndrome or birth defects including a severe range of microcephaly with a partly damaged skull, reduced brain tissue, and brain damage, eye health damages, restricted body movements that arise out of excessive muscle tone after the birth and joint issues that limit motion. Apart from these problems, the Zika virus infection may also cause Guillain-Barre syndrome a neurological disorder.
In order to diagnose this viral infection first, your doctor will ask about all the health symptoms that you are experiencing in recent times. He or she will ask about your medical history and your travel history to confirm whether you have any recent visit to the outbreaks areas or not as in that case you have a high risk to contract this infection.
If you had any recent past international travel then you need to describe everything in detail like where you have stayed and for how long, the current health status of that place in general, etc. Inform your doctor whether you had sex over there or not with your partner. If yes then it was protected sex or not, whether you had active contact with mosquitoes in the places where you stayed during your traveling period or not etc.
The doctor will prescribe you to have blood tests or urine tests which are generally used to diagnose the Zika virus as well as other such diseases such as dengue or chikungunya viruses as these are also spread by similar types of mosquito bites. The blood or urine test report will confirm the Zika virus disease presence.
Under the condition where a woman is pregnant but no sign of Zika virus she has developed yet, however she had a recent travel to any Zika virus active area where transmission is ongoing or had past history of the same should proactively go for the diagnostic test.
However, in such cases, the testing will be conducted after 2 to 12 weeks of her returning. On the basis of your positive, negative or inconclusive test report the healthcare provider may ask for following screening test for the confirmation of the disease-
- Ultrasound will be done to determine microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities.
- The sample of amniotic fluid will be taken through a hollow needle inserting into a woman’s uterus. This helps is screening the Zika virus.
There is no specific antiviral treatment for the Zika virus disease cure. However, the treatment measures that are used by the healthcare providers in general aim at relieving the symptoms that occur as a result of this viral infection.
The measures that help in coping with this viral disease symptoms include enough rest, fluids, and prescribed medications intake such as Acetaminophen, etc. The medication helps in relieving fever and joint pain issues. Though currently, no vaccine is available to prevent the Zika virus infection but researches are in process to discover an effective Zika virus preventing vaccine.
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent the Zika virus infection. So this infectious disease can only be prevented with proper awareness regarding each and every aspect of this viral disease and with the self-protective measure to avoid the mosquito bites that are the primary carrier of this virus.
The CDC recommends to all pregnant women around the world to avoid their traveling plan during this pregnancy phase in any area where the outbreak of Zika virus is ongoing or have past history for such outbreaks. Women whose partner lives or have frequent traveling to areas known for Zika virus outbreaks should avoid their sexual contact with their partner or if sexual contact happens then condom usage is a must.
In case a woman is planning to conceive then she should discuss her future traveling plans with the doctor as the healthcare provider can guide better her risk of getting Zika virus infection considering her future traveling plans etc. After listening to your future plans the doctor may suggest you postponing your pregnancy plan for several months. This is really crucial to prevent you’re as well as your baby’s risk of Zika virus infections and its drastic health impacts.
People who are living or about to travel in tropical areas where the risk of Zika virus outbreak are well known should follow below-mentioned tips in order to reduce their risk of mosquito bites-
- Wear Only Protective Clothing- You should try to stay indoors during the outbreaks seasons of the year to prevent mosquito bites. While going outdoors especially the mosquito-infested areas you must wear long-sleeved clothes such as full sleeve shirt or t-shirt, full trousers, socks, and shoes.
- Use Homemade or Commercial Mosquito Repellent- Use mosquito repellents either homemade or commercials one as per your choice which is the most effective and quick-fix solution to kill nasty insects like mosquitoes. Whether you live in an outbreak region or about to travel in such a place you must carry a mosquito repellent with you to prevent your risk of mosquito bites and Zika virus disease thereon. Permethrin can be easily and safely used to your clothes, shoes, camping gear, and bed nets. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered repellent is also safe and effective to be used by pregnant and breastfeeding women.
- Reduce the Mosquito Habitats- Mosquitoes that carry and spread the Zika virus likes to live and breed in and around human houses. So to reduce their population and your risk of contracting this infection you must control their habitat. These mosquitoes breed in stagnant water that they easily found inside and around your house place in the form of animals’ dishes, flower pots, etc. So take care of these things to prevent their breed and to reduce your risk of developing this mosquito-borne viral infection.
- Sleep in Air-conditioned Room- Mosquitoes usually like hot and humid temperatures so its breed and bites can be prevented by using an air conditioner at your home place. Keep your house cool with an air conditioner which is an easy method to prevent your risk of Zika virus-carrying mosquito’s bites.
- Stay in Well Screened House- If you live an outbreak area where your risk of contracting the Zika virus infection is quite high then you can reduce your risk to a great extent by living in a well-screened house. These houses have protected walls that restrict mosquito entry and their bites thereon. Though the Zika virus-carrying mosquitoes remain active during the day time but they can also bite during nights as well. So sleep under in bed net as this is the cheapest way to prevent mosquito bites during the night.
Preventing the Zika Virus Transmission through Blood Transfusion
Zika virus can be transmitted from an infected person’s blood to a healthy person’s body through the blood transfusion process. So to prevent this risk of spreading the Zika virus all blood donations should be screened for the Zika virus first. For preventing the Zika virus transmission risk in areas that are not prone to active Zika virus outbreaks, the FDA strongly recommends avoiding donating the blood for four weeks under the following circumstances-
- If you recently have traveled or lived in areas known for active Zika virus transmission
- Have past history of Zika virus disease
- You have had sexual intimacy with a person who has diagnosed with Zika virus disease.
- You have had intimacy with a partner who lived or has traveled to the active Zika virus transmission area in the last three months.
- You have developed some symptoms that indicate the Zika virus infection within two weeks of your travel to active Zika virus transmission area
With the above-mentioned prevention measures and proactive steps, you can easily reduce and prevent yours and your family member’s risk of developing the Zika virus disease.