What is the Zika virus?
This is a virus spread by an infected mosquito, which bites normally during the day. The effects can vary and can be similar to dengue fever and can vary from mild symptoms from headaches and fever but researchers think this can lead to more serious effects such as microcephaly in babies of infected pregnant women.
How does it spread?
It is believed the virus spreads from infected Aedes and possibly Tiger mosquitos. Researchers also believe this can spread through blood transfusions and sexual contact.
Where did it come from?
In 1947 the Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in a rhesus monkey where it was isolated. Since then relatively small outbreaks were recorded in Asia and Africa and the virus spread towards the East eventually reaching Easter Island, Chile, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America where there has now been an outbreak of the virus in Brazil.
What are the Symptoms?
Common symptoms include headaches, joint pain, rash, fever, muscle pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). These normally last from 2 to 7 days.
The more worrying possible link is the cause of microcephaly in babies of infected pregnant women. This can cause a limitation of the growth of a baby’s brain during development which causes a below average head size of the baby. Microcephaly can cause cognitive delays and neurological problems. Some children experience dwarfism, learning difficulties, seizures and impaired motor functions. However some children experience very little symptoms and go on to have normal lives.
What treatments are available?
There are currently no vaccines available to treat the virus.
To treat the symptoms keep hydrated and take lots of rest. Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Seek a healthcare provider for advice in your area.
How can I prevent infection?
– Cover up: wear long sleeves tops and trousers to limit the exposed areas of your body to avoid mosquito bites.
– Stay in places where there is air conditioning
– Use an insect repellent cream with DEET. If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent. Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months of age.
– Use mosquito nets and screens. Make sure there are no holes.
– Avoid travelling to countries found to have the virus, particularly if you are pregnant.
What countries are affected?
As of February 2016 the Zika virus is most found in South and Central America but there have been reports in the Pacific Islands and Cape Verde. There are concerns the virus will spread to Europe during the summer months.
More information can be found here: www.cdc.gov/zika
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