The future of human health is under threat with the WHO (World Health Organisation) declaring the Zika virus infection to be a ‘public health emergency of international concern’. Although, it was previously known that the Zika virus was transferred by infected mosquito bites from the Aedes genus, recent reports claim that it can also be transmitted via sexual contact. There is currently no vaccine for the Zika virus.
The Zika outbreak
The Zika virus itself is however not a recent phenomenon, with the virus first being isolated in 1947 and deriving its name from the Zika Forest of Uganda. The virus is also closely related to the dengue, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis viruses, with its carriers being the day-time Aedes mosquitoes. Initially, the infection was confined to the narrow equatorial belt from Africa to Asia, but it spread eastwards across the Pacific Ocean from 2007-2016, reaching the Americas and began infecting people on a global scale, resulting in the outbreak of the 2015-16 Zika virus epidemic.
Perhaps, the most difficult part about containing the infection is the fact that only one out of five people affected actually shows the symptoms, making it very difficult to diagnose. Furthermore, a pregnant mother may also transfer the virus to her fetus which may lead to birth defects such as microcephaly or incomplete brain development. However for most people, the Zika virus causes only mild, flu-like symptoms, although in adults, it is also connected to the Guillan-Barrè syndrome wherein the immune system nerves are affected, causing muscle paralysis and weakness.
The Zika outbreak began in Brazil, and has spread to other South American and Central American countries, Caribbean island and has climbed upwards to Mexico. In fact in March 2016, Zika was isolated from a 2014 blood sample of a man in Bangladesh as part of a retrospective study. As of August 1, the virus has even reached Florida’s mosquitoes and can travel further north. 14 cases of infection have already been reported in South Florida. Cases of death have also been reported.
As per reports,“the first reported occurrence of female-to-male sexual transmission of Zika virus” seems to have come from New York City. So far, 15 cases of infection in the US have been confirmed to have been transmitted via sex. Studies also suggest that the virus remains in the semen for as long as 93 days. U.S. travellers are also responsible for bringing Zika back with them with the CDC reporting 2245 travel-linked cases and 8000 local infections in the country.
Measures You Can Take:
Attempts are being made to contain the infection as well as develop a vaccine to immunise the people against the virus. But prevention is better than cure, and here are some steps which we can take to protect ourselves from the deadly infection.
Prevent Mosquito Bites:
1. Use EPA-registered insect repellants
2. Wear long-sleeved clothes
3. Keep doors and windows closed
4. Empty buckets and flower pots of standing or stagnant water around your house.
5. Keep rooms and toilets clean.
Practise Safe Sex:
1. People living in Zika-infected areas should practise safe sex (including condoms) or abstain from sexual activity.
2. Abstain from sexual activity throughout the pregnancy cycle.
3. If you’re returning from a Zika-infected area, abstain from sex or practise safe sex for at least 8 weeks.
4. If you experience Zika symptoms, abstain from sex or practise safe sex for at least 6 months, particularly if you’re planning a pregnancy.
5. Avoid sharing sex toys.
6. Abstaining from sex negates the possibility of getting Zika via sex.
Do Not Travel To Zika-Infected Countries
1. Pregnant women should in particular not travel to Zika-infected areas.
2. Do not travel to a Zika-infected place unless it’s an emergency, and if you do, take necessary precautions.
Featured photo credit: naturegirl 78 via flickr.com