We live in a world where there are infection-causing viruses and germs prevalent in large numbers. As medical science progresses and attempts to find cures and remedies for these viruses, the viruses change form, grow stronger and strike back causing other forms of illnesses. While there are vaccines and immunization mechanisms available to safeguard the health of self and family, none of them can completely guarantee protection. Among so many prevalent viruses, you may have heard of the zika virus.
What is the zika virus?
The zika virus is a virus that is carried by a mosquito known as the aedes mosquito, which is the same mosquito that carries the dengue virus. This mosquito-borne zika virus was identified first in Uganda in the year 1947 where the virus had infected monkeys. The symptoms seen then were primarily yellow fever. Later, the virus and its associated symptoms were diagnosed in humans in the year 1952 in Uganda. The flu resulting from the zika virus has also been witnessed in Africa, America, Asia and the Pacific. The infections found in Asia and Africa were mainly associated with a mild form of illness. Apart from flu like symptoms, researchers have found some linkages between Guillain-Barré syndrome and the zika virus.
Facts you should know about zika virus
The zika virus disease is a serious condition. The main challenge with the zika virus is that symptoms may not be obvious, and therefore they may be misunderstood and misdiagnosed as symptoms related to other medical conditions. It is known that women who are infected with a virus while pregnant can pass the virus along to her unborn child. And this goes for the zika virus as well. Brain defects and miscarriages could occur if the virus is contracted during pregnancy. Since the virus is not much talked about, there is very little or no awareness about the conditions associated with the disease resulting from this virus. Here are some important facts about the zika virus disease that you should be aware of:
- Zika virus is generally contracted through a mosquito bite or unprotected sex: Zika virus disease is associated with yellow fever and the is generally transmitted through a mosquito bite. People who are bitten by the mosquito become the carriers of the virus and with another mosquito biting the infected, the virus is spread. Unprotected sex with a patient who is infected with the zika virus can also put you at a high risk of acquiring the zika virus disease. Women who are expecting should refrain from having sex with their partners who are infected with the virus, as it can pose serious risks to the unborn baby.
- Zika virus symptoms may not look severe: Most cases reported of the zika virus disease have shown mild flu-like symptoms. The symptoms can include headaches, body and muscular pains, fever and rashes, which may not seem alarming and hence can misguide the diagnosis. Usually the symptoms are known to last for two to seven days. One of the serious symptoms associated with the zika virus is the occurrence of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is an autoimmune disease and could lead to severe complications.
- The virus can affect unborn babies putting them at a risk of complications: The virus affecting pregnant women can lead to complications, putting the unborn baby at a high risk of various birth defects and miscarriages. At which point of pregnancy the virus effects the most is yet not known, but the complications that can arise can have a huge impact on the development of the baby’s brain.
- Zika vaccine is under research: There are still no preventive and curative vaccines available for protection against the zika virus. There is however major research underway in hopes of developing a vaccine that could guarantee protection against the disease caused by the virus.
- Travelers can get affected by zika: Those traveling to areas where the zika virus is prevalent are more likely to catch the infection. Hence, one must avoid traveling to places that have high prevalence of the infection especially when you are pregnant.
Diagnosing the zika virus
Since there are no specific symptoms that directly indicate zika, diagnosing the zika virus can get tricky in a number of cases. The following steps are taken in the diagnosis process to confirm the viral infection:
- Travel history of the patient may be taken down by the doctor if the doctor is suspecting a zika virus infection.
- A blood test or a urine test allows a more confirmatory diagnosis of the disease.
- If you are suspecting that you've acquired a zika virus infection, you should make an immediate visit to a doctor. You could also see a doctor if the area in which you live has seen incidences of the zika virus infection due to the prevalence of mosquitoes. Again, having unprotected sex with the infected could put you at a high risk of acquiring the infection and you must see the doctor urgently.
- Pregnant women are often susceptible to acquiring infections since their immunity levels are compromised. If you are expecting and suddenly experience any of the symptoms associated with the zika virus such as fever, rashes, conjunctivitis etc, you must not delay visiting your doctor for a diagnosis. Pregnant women should avoid traveling to zika-infected regions and if you do, come back and immediately visit the doctor to rule out the infection even if you are not experiencing the symptoms.
The complications associated with zika virus arise often because symptoms are rather mild and can go unnoticed. Hence, one needs to be careful especially with travel and take sexual precautions.
Risks associated with zika virus
Is the the zika virus a deadly virus? Can it be fatal? These are obvious questions that may run through your mind regarding this viral infection. Zika virus has seen few casualties, but the occurrence is not like an epidemic. Unlike dengue virus which is caused by the same mosquito, the symptoms of the zika virus are far milder and generally reduce within two to five days. However, there are a few risks associated with the disease in the case that the infection flares up and leads to complications.
- Microcephaly: Like we said earlier, the zika virus can be dangerous for an unborn baby in the womb. Therefore, pregnant women especially need to exercise care and caution. A medical condition known as microcephaly is associated with the zika virus. Microcephaly is a birth defect, and it causes the baby’s head to be smaller as compared to a normal size. Microcephaly can cause brain defects that lead to an underdeveloped brain in the baby. Impaired growth, loss or impaired vision and other abnormalities could also result due to microcephaly.
- Guillain-Barré syndrome: This is an abnormality of the nerves caused by an autoimmune trigger. Researchers have found some association between the zika virus and GBS as a number of instances have been seen. GBS is a rare disease and the zika virus acts as a trigger to flare up the disease.
Mosquito control to prevent zika
The spread of the zika virus can be controlled if there are adequate measures taken to control mosquito breeding. If you come across any zika instances in your neighborhood, inform the government health departments so they can take necessary steps to maintain and control the mosquito population in the area. Spreading awareness and information makes people cautious about the condition and helps them take preventive actions.
- The primary causes of the zika virus remain the aedes mosquito and unprotected sex with an infected person.
- Traveling to areas with the prevalence of the zika virus infection could put you at a risk of acquiring the infection.
- Maintaining hygiene and taking preventive steps to control mosquito breeding can contribute towards reducing the spread of this disease.