In this article we will look at:
- What is zika?
- How does zika occur?
- Zika related disorders
- Who is prone to zika?
- What are the symptoms of zika?
- How is zika diagnosed?
- What complications can zika lead to?
- What is the treatment for zika?
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What is zika?
The zika virus, first identified in Uganda in 1947, is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. It is the same mosquito which transmits dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya virus.
Although zika itself is not fatal, and the symptoms of this illness pass away within a week, the major concern is the devastating effects this disease has on an unborn baby when the mother gets infected. There is currently a scientific consensus that zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Zika’s connection to other neurological complications are also presently being investigated.
You need to consult a family physician or a general physician immediately if you observe any zika-related symptoms in yourself or any of your family members. This is especially important if you are pregnant or have returned after travelling to a zika affected country.
In order to prevent the spread of infection, protect yourself against mosquito bites.
How does zika occur?
The zika virus can be transmitted in the following ways:
- through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito
- blood transfusion
- from a pregnant woman to her unborn child or the fetus
- through sexual intercourse (including vaginal, anal, and also oral sex, and sharing of sex toys, between male-to-female, female-to-male, and male-to-male, sex partners. So far there are no confirmed cases of sexual transmission between female sex partners. The zika virus may or may not be transmitted through saliva while kissing. )
The zika virus gets transmitted to a human being by infected female Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. After a mosquito bites an infected person, the zika virus enters the system of a mosquito, replicates in its body and spreads to its salivary glands. The virus incubates in the mosquito for eight to ten days.
Soon after, when the mosquito feeds on a person, the virus gets transmitted to the person. The incubation period of the zika virus in a person is about three to 12 days after the mosquito bite.
During this time the virus travels through his body and spreads to various glands in the body. It enters the bloodstream, and from there, into the nervous system.
Zika related disorders
When the zika virus attacks the nervous system, a small percentage of people may suffer from disorders such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a condition where your immune system attacks your nerves, leading to muscle weakness and even paralysis).
The virus can even get into the brain and cause other neurological symptoms. In these severe cases, rather than causing harm directly to a person, the virus provokes the body’s immune system to attack its own nervous system.
Conversely, in unborn children, researchers have observed that the virus directly attacks fetal nerve cells and also prevents the normal growth of the brain which leads to microcephaly.
This is believed to happen if the infection occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Researchers have also speculated that the virus may cause damage to the fetus, which may be visible many years after the birth, and after the child has grown up.
When the mother is infected it is observed that the zika virus also appears in the breastmilk. Though, there are currently no documented cases of the virus getting transmitted to infants through breastfeeding.
Sex & pregnancy related precautions against zika virus
In many cases, in the zika infected areas, the virus has been detected in the semen, vaginal fluids, saliva, and urine of the patients. Experts, therefore, have suggested that non-pregnant couples with an infected partner should:
- wait for 6 months after the first symptoms have appeared, or after the last exposure to the virus, before trying to conceive with the partner, if the man is infected.
- wait for 8 months after the first symptoms have appeared, or after the last exposure to the virus, before trying to get pregnant, if the woman is infected.
The long wait time for the man is due to the fact that, evidence has been found in a number of cases of the zika virus surviving in the semen of infected men, even after they have recovered from the illness. In fact, it has been found that the zika virus can survive in semen longer than it can in blood.
Experts also have recommended that should any couple decide not to wait to have sexual intercourse, they should consistently use condoms so as to prevent the healthy partner from getting infected.
Currently, there is no vaccine for the zika virus. The best way to steer clear of this virus is protection against mosquito bites if you travel to any of the countries with active zika virus transmission.
Who is prone to zika?
- Anyone bitten by the Aedes mosquito carrying the zika virus
- A person who has had sex with a zika infected partner
- Unborn babies of zika infected pregnant women
- Anyone who has had a blood transfusion of infected blood
What are the symptoms of zika? How is zika diagnosed?
People infected with the Zika virus usually do not experience any symptoms or experience very mild symptoms. The mild symptoms, when they do occur, are similar to those of dengue and chikungunya, develop within 3 to 12 days and last for about a week. The symptoms include:
- joint pain
- swelling of cheeks
- bloodshot eyes
The diagnosis of a Zika virus infection can be confirmed through blood tests and laboratory tests of urine, saliva and semen.
What complications can zika lead to?
World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the spread of the Zika virus as a public health emergency due to the complications that arise from this virus. The most prominent complications include:
- severe dehydration
- guillain-barré syndrome ( a condition where your immune system attacks your nerves, leading to muscle weakness and even paralysis )
- congenital malformations, especially microcephaly
- miscarriage and stillbirth in pregnant women
- premature birth
- eye problems in infants with Zika-related microcephaly, such as defects in the retina or the optic nerve, which could lead to blindness later in life
- hearing impairment
- Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis ( ADEM), which is inflammation in the brain and spinal cord that damages the myelin or the protective covering of nerve fibers, gradually leading to visual loss, and weakness to the point of paralysis
What is the treatment for zika?
Currently, there is no specific medicine for Zika infection, nor any vaccination, because scientists had for long assumed the virus to be benign.
The symptoms can, however, be treated, so your doctor may suggest fever reducers and medicines for vomiting and rash.
There are vaccinations currently being developed.
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Did you know?
India has the highest population in the geographical range of zika virus
India tops the population list ( with approximately 1.2 billion people) which lives within the geographical range for zika virus, followed by China (242 million), Indonesia (197 million) Nigeria (179 million), Pakistan (168 million), and Bangladesh (163 million).
Zika causes guillain-barré syndrome & microcephaly
With the spread of zika virus, instances of the paralyzing Guillain-Barré Syndrome skyrocketed. zika is also known to cause devastating birth defects, including microcephaly, in babies born of zika-infected women. There is now, a scientific consensus that zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome
Zika virus can be transmitted through sexual intercourse
Eleven countries so far have recorded evidence of person-to-person transmission of the zika virus through sexual intercourse.
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