A disease linked to the Zika virus in Latin America poses a global public health emergency requiring a united response, says the World Health Organization.
In this interconnected world where an outbreak is a flight away, India has reason to fear Zika, the newest mosquito-borne infection threatening the world. First identified in Uganda in 1947, this dengue-like infection was considered non-threatening for decades because it caused mild fever, skin rash, with or without muscle and joint pain in roughly one in five people affected. The current outbreak in South America, from where the disease has spread to 23 countries within a year, changed that. The infection has caused panic because of its suspected link to microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and brain damage.
Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.
In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.
In response, CDC has issued travel notices for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.
- About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill (i.e., develop Zika).
- The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.
- The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
- Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days but it can be found longer in some people.
- Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.
- Deaths are rare.
- The symptoms of Zika are similar to those of dengue and chikungunya, diseases spread through the same mosquitoes that transmit Zika.
- See your healthcare provider if you develop the symptoms described above and have visited an area where Zika is found.
- If you have recently traveled, tell your healthcare provider when and where you traveled.
- Your healthcare provider may order blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viruses like dengue or chikungunya.
- No vaccine or medications are available to prevent or treat Zika infections.
- Treat the symptoms:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Take medicine such as acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain.
- Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen. Aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of hemorrhage (bleeding). If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.
- If you have Zika, prevent mosquito bites for the first week of your illness.
- During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites.
- An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.
The infection spreads through the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that causes dengue and chikungunya outbreaks in India every year. Though the traces of the virus were detected across six Indian states in 1952-53, outbreaks haven’t happened and the population’s immunity against this new scourge is likely to be low. With 26 million babies born in India each year, the government and civic authorities need to snap out of their complacency and declare a war against the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This will not only protect thousands of newborns from brain damage but also end the seasonal scourge of dengue and chikungunya.