The Zika Virus is a mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947, within caged rhesus monkeys placed in the Zika Forest to monitor yellow fever. It was first reported in humans in 1952 in Uganda, and its first large outbreak was in 2007 in the Island of Yap.
Although this virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito (mainly the Aedes mosquitos), sexual transmission and transmission through blood transfusion is possible as well.
One of the biggest problems in tackling the Zika Virus is that its symptoms are common to most viruses. These symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. Furthermore, only one out of five people show symptoms, which leads to many cases going unreported.
The virus is rather mild itself, as symptoms last 3-5 days, but it can trigger many defects like Microcephaly and the Guillain-Barre Syndrome. A woman can transfer the Zika Virus to her fetus during pregnancy, which can cause Microcephaly, a birth defect wherein a baby is born with a head smaller than the average size. Microcephaly can lead to seizures, developmental delays, hearing loss and vision problems. Similarly, the Zika Virus can trigger the Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which is an auto-immune disease wherein a person’s own immune system damages his nerve cells. Most people never fully recover from this syndrome, and some are left with permanent nerve damage. The Zika Virus can thus lead to very dangerous illnesses and must be prevented and treated accordingly.
However, there currently exists no specific vaccine or medicine for the virus, and its only treatment is treating the discomfort-causing symptoms, which can be remedied by drinking plenty of fluids, getting adequate rest and taking medicines like paracetamol to relieve fever and pain. Since the virus has no real cure, we must focus on its prevention.
The first step towards its prevention is the reduction of mosquitos by removing or modifying breeding sites. Many people disagree with this, arguing that the process is complex and is not the most feasible option. However, given the seriousness of the Zika Virus, the WHO stresses that the elimination of mosquito breeding sites is the most effective intervention for protection against the same. Furthermore, ‘Fogging’ (the spraying of insecticides) should be carried out during outbreaks, when mosquito activity is most intense. Personal precautions should be taken, including the use of repellents and ensuring rooms are fitted with screens to prevent mosquitos from entering. Pregnancy measures should also be taken in areas with active transmissions of the virus to prevent sexual transmission. More preventive measures for the same include strengthening the capacity of laboratories to detect the virus, supporting health authorities to implement vector control strategies and engaging communities to understand the risks associated with the virus.
In May, 2017, three laboratory-confirmed cases of the Zika Virus were reported in Gujarat, India. It is clear that the virus is spreading across the globe and must be combated effectively, especially because of the severity of its complications. In a world that has already been through so much turmoil, we cannot risk another epidemic.