Birth defects, miscarriages and neurological complications

Zika is a virus primarily acquired by the bite of an infected mosquito. Most people do not get sick at all or have only minor illness but it can cause birth defects, miscarriage and neurological complications in children and adults. Zika comes in waves and 86 countries have reported sporadic evidence of this disease. It is present mostly in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

This disease is not routinely screened for and little data is available on how many people are infected.



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What causes Zika

Zika virus is virus that belongs to Flaviviridae virus genus/family. Other infections from this genus include dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses. The virus is spread in two ways: mosquito and non-mosquito transmission. An Asian and African strain of the virus has been identified.

Mosquito from the Aedes genus carry the virus, mainly Aedes aegypti, in tropical and subtropical regions

Zika is also transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy and through sexual contact.

The primary vertebrate hosts of the virus were monkeys and it rarely caused infection in humans.

Photo: Aedes aegypti mosquito

Where is Zika found

Zika virus is mainly found in tropical and subtropical regions. The virus was first identified in 1947 with infected monkeys in a Ugandan forest known as Ziika where its name was derived from. The infection was later found in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Throughout the 1960s and 1980s, sporadic human infections were reported from Africa and Asia that were associated with mild symptoms. In April 2007, the first outbreak was reported from the Island of Yap. From 2007 to 2016 the spread of the virus spread towards the east and led to the 2015 epidemic. Consequently, in 2013 a large outbreak of the infection of French Polynesia and other territories in the Pacific resulted in approximately 32,000 infections. A large rash outbreak that was later identified as zika virus in Brazil in 2015, also found an association with the immune condition known as Guillain-Barré syndrome. So far, a total of 86 countries and territories have reported cases of mosquito-transmitted infections.

Image: Zika geographical distribution

What are the symptoms of Zika

The incubation period for the virus is between 3 to 14 days. Most cases of zika infection show no symptoms. Zika infections are very similar to the symptoms of dengue fever. General symptoms of the infections include fever, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache. These symptoms normally span 2 to 7 days.

Complications of Zika virus disease
Zika infection during pregnancy is linked to abnormalities in the neuronal development of the child. A result of the infection during pregnancy causes microcephaly and other congenital abnormalities in the fetus while developing and also in the newborn child. The infection also results in complications in the pregnancy including fetal loss, stillbirth, and preterm birth.

The infection is also linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, neuropathy, and myelitis and is mostly seen among adults and older children. Further research is ongoing to investigate the effects of zika infection on pregnancy and other neurological-related disorders.

How can Zika be prevented

Controlling mosquito populations is the main way to prevent and reduce zika. This includes source reduction, pesticide spraying for larval control and fumigation for adult control, and/or the use of mosquito traps.

Wear long-sleeved clothing and long trousers when outdoors.

Use mosquito netting over the bed if the bedroom is not air conditioned or screened, and for additional protection, treat the mosquito netting with the insecticide permethrin.

How is Zika diagnosed

The diagnosis of zika is typically made based on symptoms in endemic areas. Zika is difficult to differentiate from other viral infections. The infection can only be confirmed by laboratory diagnosis.

The zika virus can be detected by Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, such as the ones made available by the WoIDM.

How is Zika treated

There is no treatment available for the infection or its accompanying diseases. Mild symptoms of the zika infection often require plenty of rest and keeping the patients hydrated. Fever and pain are treated with common medicines. Patients are advised to seek medical care with worsening symptoms that last longer. Pregnant women who live in known areas with higher infections are advised to seek medical attention by regular laboratory testing and other provide clinical care.

Many of the vaccines that are developed are still in the early phases of clinical trials. Priority is given to developing inactivated vaccines that are safe for pregnant women.

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