The United States and the Pacific is experiencing an ongoing and rampant spread of Zika fever, caused primarily by the Zika virus in the middle of 2016. The outbreak of the Zika virus started in Brazil in early 2015, which consequently spread to some parts of Northern and Southern America and affected several parts of the world.
In February 2016, the World Health Organization has issued a statement saying that the Zika virus outbreak has become a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This is evident with the rise of Zika-induced birth defects and neurological problems.
Origin and Rise to Infamy
The Zika virus was derived from the virus family of Flaviviridae and it is mainly spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This mosquito-borne Flavivirus was first recorded in Uganda last 1947, and it is loosely related to the following viruses: Japanese encephalitis, West Nile, Dengue and Yellow fever.
To date, the virus has already spread to more than 20 countries in the United States. With the sudden rise and explosion of the virus in the United States, it has clearly caused a cloud of fear among the affected regions because although the symptoms and effects are generally mild, there’s a greater concern with studies showing that there’s a strong link between Zika virus and brain defects in babies.
Zika virus is transmitted to people through a bite from the mosquito, which consequently becomes infected when it feeds on a person already carrying the virus. Aside from mosquito bites, it can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse even before the symptoms start to manifest.
Some other ways in transmitting the virus is through exposure or through blood transfusion. Moreover, Zika virus can be passed from pregnant woman to the unborn child, thereby causing some birth defects. Those who are infected with the virus show various mild symptoms such as fever, rashes, conjunctivitis, joint pain, headache, and muscle pain. These symptoms may last from a few days to a week.
Health Problems and Risks of Zika Virus
The incubation period of the Zika Virus disease might take a few days to a week, and it might cause varied symptoms. According to Amesh Adalja, spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, about 20 percent of people infected by Zika virus exhibit symptoms.
There are various health effects and risks brought about by the Zika virus. Here are some of the health-related issues that you need to know about:
- Zika infection during pregnancy can cause different defects such as microcephaly and severe fetal brain defects.
- Current CDC research suggests that GBS is strongly associated with Zika; however, only a small proportion of people with recent Zika virus infection have been diagnosed with GBS.
Zika Virus and Gullian-Bare Syndrome
The recent outbreak of Zika virus in South America has been on the rise since the middle of 2016, with several studies showing that Zika virus is linked to birth defects especially when pregnant mothers are infected.
A rare and progressive neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome is triggered by infection to the Zika virus. This neurological syndrome and disorder occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your nerves, resulting to weakness and paralysis. Most patients can recover over time; however, some experience long lasting effects like numbness and difficulties in movement.
In the New England Journal of Medicine, health officials have reported that there is a significant increase in the number of cases of GBS with countries that have Zika virus endemic. Health officials and researchers reported to have as much as 877 percent increase on the incidence of GBS. An official report evaluated that between April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016, there has been a total of 164,237 confirmed and suspected cases of Zika virus infections, with 1,474 cases of GBS.
Testing for Zika
Getting tested for Zika virus is different from testing for flu or pregnancy. There are only a few accredited and certified laboratories that can test for the Zika virus and as a result, specimens have to be shipped to a different location to proceed with the lab testing.
If your city health department doesn’t have any laboratory to do the testing, it will coordinate with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Please note that the processing and results may take longer at roughly more than 2 to 4 weeks, especially when the spread of virus increases.
Zika virus testing is only recommended for some people, and it is only recommended that you undergo Zika testing if you have lived or traveled to an area known to have Zika outbreak or if you had sex with a partner who lives in or has traveled to a Zika-infested area.
An IgM-positive or Zika ELISA test can only be indicative and diagnosed on flavivirus infection. Furthermore, the methods available to test for Zika antibodies cross-react with dengue antibodies. Here are some tips on how to get tested for the Zika virus:
- Determine the need for testing. If you think you’re experiencing Zika virus symptoms, seek the help of your doctors. Your doctor may decide to test you for Zika or other viruses.
- Get the approval of Health Department before submitting samples.
- Collect the samples to be forwarded for testing.
- If your health department or laboratory will perform the actual testing, the results will be sent to your doctor.
Facts and Figures on Zika Virus
- In 2007, several islands in the Pacific region have experienced outbreaks. Zika virus disease is gradually becoming an infectious disease. In 2015, there are reported outbreaks in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
- According to the World Health Organization, there is a scientific concurrence that the Zika virus causes microcephaly, GBS, and congenital nervous system malformations.
- Phylogenetic analysis reports that there are two Zika virus lineages: African lineage and Asian lineage.
- The first noted case of Zika virus in the United States occurred in January 2016 at Harris County in Texas.
- There are 45 countries and territories with confirmed indirect transmission of Zika virus disease in different U.S. states since 2015.
- Fifteen countries and territories in the United States were reported to have cases of congenital syndrome associated with the Zika virus. Moreover, there are three additional countries that were reported to have suspected cases of congenital syndrome associated with Zika virus, and these are Barbados, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
- On August 9, Canada confirmed to have two cases of maternal-fetal transmission of the Zika virus, including severe neurological congenital anomalies.
- In Asia, Malaysia reported its first case of Zika virus infection in a woman who was travelling to Singapore.
Treatment and Prevention of Zika Virus
Generally, there are no specific medication and vaccination for the Zika virus. To treat the virus, symptomatic measures and treatment should be done to treat the symptoms that come with it. Those infected with Zika virus are advised to treat the symptoms and to get plenty of rest and fluids. Please take note to avoid drinking aspirin and non-inflammatory drugs to reduce the risk of internal hemorrhage or bleeding. Take medicines such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain.
Diagnosis of the Zika virus is largely based on the patient’s travel history, symptoms and even test results. To confirm the diagnosis, blood or urine test must be done to quickly check if you’re positive with the virus. Zika virus can remain in semen for more than 93 days and it can last longer in other bodily fluids like urine, blood and vaginal fluid.
To prevent you and others from contacting the Zika virus, it is best to protect yourself and your loved ones from mosquito bites especially since there is no medical vaccine to prevent the virus from spreading.
Here are more tips on how to prevent the spread of the Zika virus:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Treat your clothing with permethrin.
- Use EPA-registered insect repellants and always follow the instructions on the product label.
- Do not use insect repellant on babies under the age of 2 months old.
- Avoid travelling in areas with Zika outbreak.
- Use condoms to avoid sexually transmitting the virus to another person.
The Zika virus can be indicative of a more severe case especially with the explosion of the outbreak. The best way to prevent Zika is to avoid mosquito bites, and everyone can eventually help control mosquitoes. The government and health organizations can control the outbreak by developing mosquito control plans and to evaluate effective methods and actions needed to prevent or lower down infection to the virus.
Meanwhile, you and your neighbors can also take precautionary steps to reduce the spread of mosquitoes by properly following water disposal. Pregnant women who live in or have traveled to regions with higher Zika incidents may be extremely risky. It is most important to always exercise precautions.
Furthermore, pregnant women are advised to subject themselves to ultrasound scans moe frequently. This method is the most reliable and effective way in detecting microcephaly before the baby is born. Birth defects aren’t usually identified until the second trimester, and that is why it is important for couples to use all necessary preventive measures.
The government and health organizations can protect you by activating Emergency Operations Centers so that scientists can monitor cases of the virus, work on better solutions, and to freely run studies and tests on pregnant women who test positive for Zika virus.
As of the moment, the National Institute of Health is already developing a vaccine that can potentially help put a stop to the rising number of incidents. Scientists are tweaking a vaccine that was initially developed for the West Nile virus, and they expect to launch a safety trial for it within the year.