As if by a sudden twist of fate, the South American country of Brazil, and by extension the entire world looks on with bewilderment as the Zika virus disease is unsettling the minds of so many health watchers and experts alike. This new epidemic coming at a time the whole world is preparing to gather in Brazil for the forth coming Summer Olympics (August) this year, has raised more than enough concern already and the World Health Organisation is declaring an emergency situation. Health Editor, MORGAN NWANGUMA traces the root of the fast spreading viral disease, and how the authorities are dealing with it.
Currently Brazil is being ravaged by the new epidemic called Zika – a viral infection that is transmitted through the bite of the Aedes Mosquito, the same that is responsible for the yellow fever disease; it usually bites during the morning and late afternoon and evening hours. It is of the genre – Flavivirus, and it is an animal virus that belongs to the family called Flaviviridae. Going by the opinion of experts however, the recent Brazil episode as pertaining to the Zika virus transmission may equally be a new phenomenon.
This tends to be so because it was actually in 2015 – for the first time, that the Zika virus RNA was actually detected in the amniotic fluid of two foetuses, indicating that it had crossed the placenta and could cause a mother-to-child infection. So far, agencies investigating the Zika outbreaks are finding an increasing body of evidence about the link between Zika virus and microcephaly. The conclusion of the study carried out was that there is really a possible link between Zika fever and microcephaly in newborn babies by mother-to-child transmission. Babies born under this situation have manifested shrinkage in the brain as well as normal head size.
This implies that such a baby may likely suffer developmental problems. And this is the latest nightmare of expectant mothers. Meanwhile, as the Federal Minister of health, Prof. Isaac Folorunso Adewole pleads for more funding for the ministry in the 2016 budget, he equally informed that Zika has been here with us. He said about 25% of Nigerians are positive with the Zika virus; this is to say that they are actually living with it. It is also learnt according to the Minister, that most of the people so affected have antibodies against the virus – meaning that they are immune from the virus.
In the same vein, the American President, Barack Obama is requesting the sum of $1.8b in emergency funds in order to fight the disease both at home and abroad. So also, the European Medical Agency (EMA) based in London through its newly formed task force on Zika, is advising companies working on vaccines and drugs against the virus.
The Origin of Zika:
Zika virus is said to have been discovered first in rhesus monkeys through a monitoring network of sylvatic yellow fever in Uganda, 1947. It is an emerging mosquito-borne virus which was later identified in humans in 1952 around Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. In times past there had been recorded outbreaks of Zika virus disease in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
Zika virus is diagnosed through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and virus isolation from blood samples. Diagnosis by serology can be difficult as the virus can cross-react with other flaviviruses such as dengue, West Nile and yellow fever.
Mode of transmission:
The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) of Zika virus disease is not clear, but experts say it is likely to be a few days. During large outbreaks in French Polynesia and Brazil in 2013 and 2015 respectively, national health authorities reported potential neurological and auto-immune complications of Zika virus disease. And today local health authorities in the South American country of Brazil have observed an increase in Zika virus infections in the general public with an attendant increase in babies born with microcephaly in the northeastern part of the country.
Zika virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito from the Aedes genus, mainly Aedes aegypti in tropical regions. This is the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
Zika virus disease outbreaks were reported for the first time from the Pacific in 2007 and 2013 (Yap and French Polynesia, respectively), and in 2015 from the Americas (Brazil and Colombia) and Africa (Cape Verde). In addition, more than 13 countries in the Americas have reported sporadic Zika virus infections indicating rapid geographic expansion of Zika virus. Zika is carried by mosquitoes and has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains.
Signs and Symptoms:
The signs and symptoms of Zika virus disease are akin to other arbovirus infections such as dengue; they usually include – a slight fever, skin rash (exanthema) and conjunctivitis or what is popularly referred to as apollo in local parlance. Other symptoms may include muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache. According to experts, the symptoms which are usually mild, will normally last for between 2-7 days, and as at now, there is no specific treatment or vaccine that is available for the treatment of Zika virus disease.
The best way to prevent the disease is actually to protect oneself from mosquito bites. As of today in 2016, no vaccine or preventative drug is yet available. Symptoms can be treated with rest, fluids, and paracetamol (acetaminophen), while aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be used only when dengue has been ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding.
Studies have shown that we have only one in five persons developing symptoms (becoming sick) when infected with the virus, with no fatalities; however, its true potential as a viral agent of disease is not quite known. There is a link between Zika fever and neurologic conditions in infected adults, including cases of the Guillain- Barré syndrome, experts say.
Also transmissible by Sex:
The latest news today concerning this virus is that it can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse. This bit of information is coming from the United States of America: A patient infected in Dallas, Texas, was said to have been infected by sexual contact, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) told the BBC. The person had not travelled to infected areas but their partner had returned from Venezuela. It is on record that in 2009, Brian Foy, a biologist from the Colorado State University, sexually transmitted Zika virus to his wife.
He visited Senegal to study mosquitoes and was bitten on a number of occasions. A few days after returning to the United States, he fell ill with Zika, but not before having had unprotected intercourse with his wife. She subsequently showed symptoms of Zika infection with extreme sensitivity to light. Foy is the first person known to have passed on an insect-borne virus to another human by sexual contact.
Zika virus disease is usually relatively mild and requires no specific treatment experts say. People sick with Zika virus should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, they should seek medical care and advice. There is currently no vaccine available against the disease.
Following the rapid and difficult to handle nature of the virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the disease linked to the virus a global public health emergency. The world health body made Zika a point of discussion at its daily meeting(s) recently.
“We certainly understand the concern,” a WHO official told Reuters news agency. “This needs to be investigated to understand the conditions and how often or likely sexual transmission is, and whether or not other body fluids are implicated”.
Prevention and Control:
Mosquitoes and their breeding sites pose a significant risk factor for Zika virus infection. Prevention and control relies on reducing mosquitoes through source reduction (removal and modification of breeding sites) and reducing contact between mosquitoes and people.
This can be done by using insect repellant; wearing clothes (preferably light-coloured) that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets. It is also important to empty, clean or cover containers that can hold water such as buckets, flower pots or tyres, so that places where mosquitoes can breed are removed.
Special attention and help should be given to those who may not be able to protect themselves adequately, such as young children, the sick or elderly.
During outbreaks, health authorities may advise that spraying of insecticides be carried out. Insecticides recommended by the WHO Pesticide Evaluation Scheme may also be used as larvicides to treat relatively large water containers. Travellers especially those going to Zika endemic zones like South America (Brazil) should take the basic precautions described above to protect themselves from mosquito bites.