What is Zika virus?
Zika virus (जीका वायरस in Hindi) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that is more commonly seen in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. The virus was first identified in Uganda (Africa) in 1947.
The first cases of the Zika virus in India were reported back in 2017. To date, a total of 86 countries and territories have reported evidence of Zika virus infection.
Most individuals infected with the virus show no signs or symptoms. However, in rare cases, this virus can affect your brain and nervous system. Zika virus infection is also called Zika fever or Zika virus disease.
How does the Zika virus spread?
Zika virus transmission occurs through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus). It is the same species of mosquito that carries dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya viruses.
Aedes mosquitoes are usually active during the day, especially during early morning and late afternoon times.
The virus can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to the fetus, through sexual contact, through transfusion of blood and blood products, and through an organ transplant.
Studies show that the virus has been detected in vaginal fluids, semen, saliva, urine, and breast milk.
What are the risk factors of the infection?
Factors that can increase your risk of getting infected include the following:
Living or travelling to countries that have had Zika virus outbreaks. Living in tropical and subtropical areas increases your risk of getting infected. Mosquitoes thrive in these regions as the climate is apt for them to breed. People who travel to these areas are also at risk if they do not follow proper precautionary measures to prevent mosquito bites.
Having unprotected sex. Zika virus can spread from person to person through unprotected sexual contact. Therefore, those who have had a recent trip to regions that are prone to the infection should be extra cautious. Couples should abstain from having sexual contact or use a condom while having sexual intercourse for at least 3 months after travelling to such places.
What are the symptoms of Zika virus?
Most people infected with the virus do not show any symptoms. In some cases, symptoms begin 3 to 14 days after exposure to the virus and include:
Conjunctivitis (Pink eye)
Less common Zika virus symptoms include muscle pain, fatigue, eye pain, headache, and stomach pain. The symptoms usually last for 2 to 7 days.
What are the complications of Zika virus infection?
In rare instances, Zika virus infection can lead to complications like:
Birth defects. Women who get infected during their pregnancy have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm birth (birth that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy), and stillbirth (foetal death that occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy).The infection also increases the risk of birth defects in infants, such as:
Microcephaly, which is a condition where the baby’s head is significantly smaller in size. This occurs due to abnormal brain development.
Joint problems that restrict movement.
Nervous system disorders. Zika virus infection can cause brain and nervous system disorders in adults. It can lead to conditions such as Guillain-Barre syndrome. It is a rare condition where your immune system mistakenly attacks a part of your nervous system. It can lead to muscle weakness and even paralysis.
How to manage the infection?
Currently, there is no specific treatment available for the Zika virus infection. The condition can be managed by taking adequate rest, having plenty of fluids, and eating a nutritious diet.
Over-the-counter medications can help manage symptoms such as joint pain and fever. Do not start other medications without consulting your doctor.
How to prevent Zika virus infection?
There is no vaccine that is currently available that would provide protection against Zika virus infection. Taking certain proactive measures will help you prevent the infection.
Protect yourself from mosquito bites, especially during early mornings and late afternoons. As the Zika virus carriers are active during these times of the day, it is important to:
Wear protective clothing and use insect repellents.
Use net screens for your windows and doors.
Prevent water from clogging around the house, as it can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Abstain from having sexual intercourse for at least 3 months or practice safe sex, if you or your partner has travelled to an area where there is an outbreak of Zika virus infection. Pregnant women should be extremely cautious as this infection can lead to miscarriages and birth defects.
Zika virus infection is usually not a serious condition and most individuals with the infection do not show any symptoms. However, though rarely, it has the potential to cause serious complications.
Recently there has been a rise in the cases of Zika virus in India. Therefore, if you notice any Zika virus symptoms, especially after travelling back from areas with Zika virus outbreaks, you should consult your doctor immediately.
1. Who.int. 2021. Zika virus. [online] Available at: <https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/zika-virus> [Accessed 12 July 2021].
2. CDC. 2021. Zika Virus - Prevention and Transmission. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/index.html> [Accessed 12 July 2021].
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