After Ebola and MERS-COV, there’s a new viral outbreak causing alarm today. As of February 1, 2016, World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika Virus disease an international health emergency following a recent surge of babies born with birth defects in South America. Zika is also believed to cause a potentially life-threatening neurological condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) which may cause weakness and in some cases, temporary paralysis.
In line with the recent WHO update, we give you the answers to important questions about the outbreak.
What is Zika Virus?
Zika Virus (ZIKV) is a mosquito-borne disease first discovered in the Zika Forest of Uganda in 1947. It is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, the same type of mosquito which spreads Dengue and Chikungunya virus.
Recently, there has been a reported case in Texas, USA wherein the virus was transmitted sexually and not through a mosquito bite. The patient infected had not traveled to infected areas but their partner returned from Venezuela. Although there were reports of Zika transmitted through sex, it is still considered a rarity and mosquitoes are still the main mode of transmission.
What are the signs and symptoms?
The symptoms are relatively mild that when they appear, it can be mistaken for flu or mild dengue and the patient may choose to disregard it and not see a physician about it. Symptoms are also very similar to those of Dengue and Chikungunya like fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, headache, general feeling of discomfort and in some cases, red eyes or conjunctivitis.
Should I be worried?
As of February 2, Department of Health (DOH) clarified that the virus is not yet a threat locally and that the Philippines is not yet affected. Zika, unlike hepatitis or HIV, does not stay in the human body for life. The experts, however, are mainly concerned about the growing incidents of children being born with microcephaly and an increased number of people affected with GBS.
What countries should a pregnant woman avoid?
The DOH is not issuing any travel ban but expected mothers are still advised not to visit these places. The virus has been identified in Africa, South America and Central America and the Carribean, including Haiti and Mexico.
What is microcephaly?
Microcephaly is a condition in which an infant has unusually small head. In some cases, the effect on the size has no effect on the baby but in the remainder of cases, brain is also underdeveloped causing a range of problems including developmental delays, intellectual deficits or disabilities. Experts are still gathering more evidence as to whether Zika virus is causing microcephaly after doctors from Brazil noticed a surge in babies born with the condition during the Zika outbreak.
Microcephaly can also be triggered by different causes like genetics, German measles or if a pregnant woman consumes too much alcohol or has diabetes.
How will I know if I am infected?
There is already an available test for Zika virus. In another report on February 2, Health Secretary Janette Garin stated that there are 1,000 kits available with another batch to be delivered in two weeks. The Health Secretary also noted that the kits cannot be used to test just anyone as there is lack of enough kits available worldwide. With that, it is best to get tested only if you develop symptoms within 2 weeks after you have traveled to countries with reported cases of Zika.
I am pregnant and I have recently travelled to a country with a reported case of Zika Virus, what should I do?
Pregnant women who recently visited a country with confirmed Zika transmission should consult a doctor and get blood tests and/or an ultrasound. The risk of infection is highest during a pregnant woman’s first trimester.
What is the treatment and prevention?
There are no approved treatments and vaccine for Zika virus. People infected are only given symptomatic and supportive care. Disease prevention is focused towards protection against mosquito bites like wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and applying mosquito repellants.