Preventive Healthcare

Zika Virus: Symptoms, Risk, and Prevention

The Origin of Zika Virus

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that spreads when an infected Aedes mosquito bites a person. The origin of the Zika virus goes back to 1947. A group of scientists was surveilling the Zika forest in Uganda for yellow fever. They isolated the Zika virus in the samples taken from a rhesus monkey and named it after the forest where they found it. The very next year, this virus was recovered from a mosquito. 

The initial cases of the Zika virus in humans were reported from the United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda. Africa, America, Asia, and the Pacific Islands have also reported outbreaks of this virus. To date, nearly 86 countries have reported cases of the Zika virus. 

The first confirmed Zika virus case in India was reported in Kerala in July 2021. In the same year, more cases were reported from Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and New Delhi.

How Does Zika Virus Spread through Aedes Mosquito?

As mentioned above, the primary mode of transmission is the Aedes mosquito. Once this mosquito bites a person, the virus incubates between three days to two weeks infecting the person and starts growing in the bloodstream. When another uninfected mosquito bites this person, irrespective of whether the person has symptoms, the mosquito becomes a virus carrier, and thus, the vicious cycle of transmission goes on.

What Are the Symptoms of the Zika Virus?

Approximately 80 percent of people who contract the Zika virus do not experience any symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they are generally mild. In addition, Zika is unlikely to cause death or need hospitalization.

So, what are the symptoms of the Zika virus? They can include:

  • Rash
  • Mild fever
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Joint pain, specifically in the feet and hands
  • Headaches
  • Myalgia (pain in the muscles)
  • Arthralgia (joint pain)
  • Pain in the eyes
  • Muscle pain
  • Pain in the abdominal area
  • Fatigue
  • Infection is dangerous during pregnancy, can lead to foetal microcephaly, preterm birth, miscarriage
  • Can lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, neuropathy and myelitis 

The signs and symptoms can appear between 3-14 days after getting bitten by an infected mosquito.

Call your doctor if you: 

  • Experience any of the above symptoms
  • Live in a virus-prone area
  • Have visited a country affected by the Zika virus
  • Are pregnant and suspect that you have the symptoms 

How to Prepare for Your Appointment with the Doctor?

You must see a doctor specializing in infectious diseases for this type of viral infection. You must know the following:

Before prescribing a diagnostic test, doctors will inquire about your medical and travel history to determine whether you are a carrier of the Zika virus. So, try to be well-prepared with the necessary details like:

  • If you came in contact with someone infected by this virus.
  • The severity of your symptoms.
  • If you got bitten by a mosquito while traveling.
  • If you are pregnant.

You can note down all these details before visiting the doctor. Also:

  • Carry a record of your vaccinations.
  • Make a list of any vitamins or supplements that you take regularly.
  • Prepare a list of questions that you need to ask the physician, such as:
    • Will I suffer any long-term health effects caused by this infection?
    • What are the tests that I will have to undergo?
    • How much time will I take to recover?

What Are the Causes of the Zika Virus Infection?

The causes and factors that increase the risk of getting this infection are:

  • Mosquito bites: Infected Aedes mosquitoes are the primary carrier of the Zika virus. It includes the Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti species. These mosquitoes lay eggs and thrive in stagnant water, indoors and outdoors. 
  • Blood transfusion: Although it is not confirmed, there have been reports from some countries where the Zika virus has been transmitted via blood transfusion.
  • Mother to baby: The virus can spread from mother to baby during pregnancy or around childbirth. Not only this but the presence of this virus has also been found in breast milk. 
  • Sexual intercourse: It is another cause of the spread of the Zika virus. There are even confirmed reports of the transmission of this virus through unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex. A person suffering from this infection can be a carrier of the Zika virus and can transmit this virus before the symptoms develop and after the symptoms subside. It is called asymptomatic transmission. Also, in contrast to blood and urine, semen remains active for a longer period than other bodily fluids. 

How Is Zika Virus Diagnosed?

The Zika virus infection can be diagnosed through blood or urine tests. Serological tests and nucleic acid detection based tests  are also  for diagnosis available to detect the presence of antibodies that your body produces to fight the infection. Some people may not show any associated symptoms, so it may go undiagnosed. 

Metropolis Healthcare Ltd. offers Zika virus detection by RTPCR which is highly sensitive and specific. It is a gold standard test for diagnosis during the first 7 days of infection.  Doctors generally recommend getting tested for the Zika virus if a person exhibits symptoms after visiting a high-risk country or area or having unprotected sexual intercourse with a partner who has recently been to a Zika-infected place. 

Another category of people who must get a test done is pregnant women. If you are pregnant and have been exposed to this virus, it is vital to get tested because there is a risk that your fetus may get this infection. Additionally, your doctor may require you to get a test if your fetal ultrasound shows Zika-related abnormalities.

Doctors also advise Amniocentesis, which involves removing a sample of amniotic fluid by inserting a hollow needle into the uterus. The sample is then sent for laboratory testing.  

What Are the Treatment Methods for the Zika Virus? 

Since no vaccine and antiviral therapies are available, the Zika virus treatment essentially involves managing the symptoms. Usually, people infected with the virus recover well with over-the-counter medications. 

Some methods can help in alleviating the symptoms of the Zika virus. The first and safest step is to visit a doctor. The next steps involve:

  • Staying hydrated by drinking sufficient liquids like water, juices, and soups.
  • Getting plenty of rest.
  • Taking medication to reduce pain and fever.
  • Informing your doctor about all the medications you have been taking at home after noticing the symptoms.
  • Avoiding any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) without consulting your doctor.

Are There Any Ways to Prevent Zika Virus?

The thumb rule is to keep mosquitoes at bay. Take precautions both indoors and outdoors to avoid mosquito bites

You can follow the below-mentioned measures: 

  • Use mosquito repellents.
  • Sleep in air-conditioned rooms.
  • Keep windows closed in the evenings when mosquitoes are highly active. 
  • Wear long-sleeved t-shirts, shirts, and trousers that cover your legs properly.
  • Use mosquito nets.
  • Always cover a baby’s crib. 
  • Install mosquito mesh on your doors and windows. It allows you to keep them open and, at the same time, prevents mosquitoes from entering your house.
  • If you stay in an area with active Zika virus cases, it is recommended to use a condom during sexual intercourse. Even after you return from this area, you must continue to take precautions for a minimum of eight weeks. 
  • If you are infected with the virus, you must use condoms for six months after recovering from it. 
  • Another crucial measure to prevent the spread of this virus is to avoid donating blood if you return from a Zika-affected area. It is necessary to wait for 28 days to ensure there is no risk of infection.
  • Couples trying to conceive must wait for about six months if either of the partners has traveled to a Zika-infected country or area (even if an infection was not confirmed).
  • Avoid sexual intercourse with someone who has recently traveled to an area or country affected by this virus.
  • Always keep the trash cans or dustbins at home clean.
  • Check your planters, buckets, and coolers for any deposits of mosquitoes. 

Can Zika Virus Cause Other Health Problems and Complications?

Usually, with proper medications and rest, people recover from the Zika virus within a week. But, there can be some serious health complications, or the virus can result in other health problems, which can be: 

  • Microcephaly: It is a birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. The virus prevents the brain from developing properly or blocks its normal growth. The Zika virus also escalates the risk of other congenital complications like: 
    • Hearing loss
    • Ophthalmologic issues or vision-related issues 
    • Limb contractures, and 
    • High muscle tone

Congenital abnormalities can result from both symptomatic and asymptomatic infection. 

  • Guillain-Barré syndrome: People infected by the Zika virus are at a higher risk of developing the Guillain–Barré syndrome, an autoimmune neurological disorder. It is a rare health condition in which the body’s immune system damages the nerve cells, resulting in muscle weakness and paralysis. Most people recover from it, but this syndrome can cause permanent damage on rare occasions.
  • Pregnancy-related complications: In some cases, the Zika virus infection can result in some complications during pregnancy like preterm birth, stillbirth, or in rare cases, fetal death. Hence, expecting couples must consult a pediatrician about the necessary precautions and care.
  • Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM): According to research presented at the American Academy of Neurology Conference, there is some connection between this virus and ADEM. In this disorder, the myelin coating around nerve fibers in the spinal cord and brain is damaged, and the symptoms are similar to those of multiple sclerosis.

What Is the Current Scenario of the Zika Virus?

In line with the Zika Strategic Response Plan, the World Health Organization (WHO) ensures complete support to all the countries in terms of detection, prevention, and care. The WHO also provides technical guidance and recommendations to healthcare professionals and policymakers.

As of April 2019, there are no vaccines available for the Zika virus. However, some vaccines are under clinical trials. They are:

  • DNA vaccine
  • Live attenuated vaccine
  • Purified inactivated vaccine 
  • mRNA vaccine
  • Viral vector-based vaccines

Interesting Facts About Zika Virus

Let us look at a few key facts about the Zika virus.

  • The Zika virus was first reported in Uganda in 1947.
  • If a woman is infected during pregnancy, the fetus can get infected. It can cause serious damage to the fetus’s brain. However, it is not clear which trimester is the most vulnerable period. 
  • The Zika virus is one of those few viruses transmitted through sexual contact.
  • The Aedes Aegypti mosquito is nicknamed ‘tiger mosquito’ because of its black and white stripes. 
  • The Aedes Aegypti mosquito is also responsible for spreading the virus that causes chikungunya, yellow fever, and dengue.
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