What is Zika?
The virus is transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquito. The same mosquito that transmits dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya that claim 100s of lives and infect 1000s every year. It gets its name from the Zika Forest of Uganda, where the virus was first isolated in 1947. Aedes mosquitoes typically bite during the day, peaking during early morning and late afternoon/evening.
In pregnant women, Zika can cause birth defects such as microcephaly – unusually small heads – and other brain abnormalities in babies in the womb. The infection can also trigger Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes paralysis.
There is no treatment or vaccine for the Zika infection till now.
The symptoms of Zika are similar to that of dengue. They include fever seldom higher than 102 degrees, skin rash, muscle and joint, conjunctivitis, pain, body ache and malaise or a headache. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days. Only about 20% of patients show symptoms that usually last up to a week.
Can Zika be transferred through sexual contact?
Yes. Although Zika virus is mainly transmitted through mosquitoes, it can also be transmitted sexually. Zika virus can be transmitted by vaginal and anal sex, and possibly by oral sex.
Due to hostile pregnancy and foetal outcomes, the WHO recommends women to avoid contact with semen from men who have visited areas where the virus is transmitted. Pregnant women are advised to practice safe sex (including correct and constant use of condoms) or complete abstinence until they give birth.
How to avoid the virus?
- Aedes aegypti breeds in fresh water so don’t let the water collect in planters, unused bottles, containers, discarded waste, tyres, birdbaths etc.
- Check mosquito breeding in and around your house.
- Special precautions should be taken during the day as Aedes aegypti is a day-biting mosquito.
- Dress so that most of your body parts are covered
- Use mosquito repellants such as creams, gels, electronic mosquito repellents, bed nets patches and incense sticks.
- Grow plants such as citronella, basil, lemon grass, lavender, mint, rosemary etc, that are known to repel mosquitoes.
What is the history of the Zika virus in India?
Before these three cases, the only time any trace of the Zika was recorded in India was in 1952-53. In a study named ‘Neutralising antibodies against certain viruses in the sera of the residents of India’, published in a journal called The Journal of Immunology, recorded among other viruses, antibodies to the Zika virus.
It is strongly suspected that Zika virus might cause birth defects and neurological problems in newborns and as birth rate is high in India, special care needs to be taken. Since our country provides fertile climate for the aedes egypti mosquito to grow and multiply, there is the possibility of an outbreak situation in the country.
Make sure you take all possible precautions and consult your doctor in case of any suspicions.