The Re-emergence of Zika

We seem to be having a re-emergence of viruses round the world. Early this year, while Nigeria
had to manage the re-emergence of Lassa fever and its complications, the Americans sought and are still searching for solutions to the many troubles brought by Zika fever. Zika fever is caused by a virus known as Zika. Zika virus, which belongs to the Flavivirus family, was first isolated from rhesus monkeys in the forest of Uganda in the year 1947. Since then, Zika fever outbreak has been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Pacific.
Zika fever is known to be transmitted by the mosquito - Aedes aegypti which also transmits other tropical fevers such as yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya fevers. These mosquitoes are basically found throughout the tropics hence, the fear of a major outbreak. Only female Aedes aegypti bites for blood which is required for the eggs to mature and it feeds during the day and at dusk (just before nightfall). It has been observed that Zika virus could be transmitted through sexual intercourse and from a pregnant mother to her unborn child.
The symptoms of the fever which may last for 2-7 days are usually mild and may include skin rash, conjunctivitis, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain. However, the Zika fever has been found to cause congenital defect in babies whose mothers where infected with the virus during their pregnancies. The congenital defect known as microcephaly is associated with incomplete brain development that may cause abnormal smallness of the head. It has been observed that the incidence of Gullain- Barre syndrome increased since the recent outbreak of Zika fever in the Americas. Research is going on to decipher a possible link between the two conditions. Gullain- Barre syndrome is an auto-immune disorder in which the nerves are destroyed by the body system causing weakness at the extremities which may finally paralyze the whole body.
Currently, there are no known vaccines and treatment for the fever. However people that are sick with Zika should get adequate rest, drink lots of fluid (esp. water) and treat fever and pain. It is best to prevent the disease and the best form of prevention is protection from mosquito bites. Since the mosquito eggs can be viable for over a year in a dry state which accounts for the re-emergence of the mosquitoes after any harsh weather condition, it is necessary to destroy their breeding habitat which includes stagnant waters. Other ways of protection against the mosquitoes include:
  • ·         Using mosquito nets and/or mosquito repellant within the house.
  • ·         Wearing of clothing that covers most body parts.
  • ·         Keeping the environment free from dumps and weeds.
Travelers, especially pregnant women, should take precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites when travelling to endemic areas. This is because it is not yet known at what stage of pregnancy the Zika virus can infect the foetus or how likely one could get infected with the virus if bitten by Aedes.
By Ifeyinwa Ugo-Amadi

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