The Zika virus has recently come to peoples attention with the recent outbreak in the Americas. Zika is a member of the virus family Flaviviridae and the genus Flavivirus, transmitted by daytime-active Aedes mosquitoes. Its name comes from the Zika Forest of Uganda, where the virus was first isolated in 1947.
Zika, or Zika disease, which since the 1950s has been known to occur within a narrow equatorial belt from Africa to Asia. In 2014, the virus spread eastward across the Pacific Ocean to French Polynesia, then to Easter Island and in 2015 to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, where the zika outbreak has reached pandemic levels.
Transmission of the zika virus
In humans, the virus causes a mild illness known as Zika fever, which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses.
These mosquitoes typically lay eggs in and near standing water in things like buckets, bowls, and animal dishes. They prefer to bite people and live both indoors and outdoors.
Mosquitoes that spread chikungunya, dengue and Zika are aggressive daytime biters as well as night-time. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes will then spread the virus to other people through bites.
The most common symptoms of zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalisation is uncommon.
Treatment for the zika virus
If you become infected with zika, at present no vaccine or medications are available to prevent or treat zika infections.
If you become infected treat the symptoms:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
- Take medicine such as acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain
- Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen. If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.
How to prevent the zika virus
As no vaccine exists at present to prevent the zika virus, prevention is better than cure.
Mosquitoes that spread the zika virus bite mostly during the daytime if possible take the following steps to avoid being bitten.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants/trousers
- Stay in the accommodation with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out
- Sleep under a mosquito net at night
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents
- Treat your clothing and gear with permethrin. DO NOT use permethrin products directly on your skin. They are intended to treat clothing only.
Pregnant women and the zika virus
In December 2015, it was suspected that a transplacental infection of the fetus may lead to microcephaly and brain damage. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control issued a comprehensive update on the possible association of Zika virus with congenital microcephaly.
Until more is known, pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant should take special precautions. Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to areas where the zika virus transmission is ongoing.
Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or another healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
Women trying to become pregnant or who are thinking about becoming pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider before travelling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.
This information is to complement and not replace the relationship with your family doctor. Always discuss your travel health requirements with your regular doctor or practice nurse.