The Zika Virus

As I’m sure all of us have heard, there is a new outbreak of the Zika Virus on the horizon. As a hopeful paediatric doctor this took my interest from the start; and I hope to enlighten those who have not heard of the Zika Virus or have but want to know more!

What is the Zika Virus?

The Zika Virus was first found in April 1974 when fever developed in a rhesus monkey that was being researched on. The first human report was only 17 years later, when a scientist reported his own disease. Since then the outbreak had been isolated to only African countries eg Egypt, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. They were also reported out in Asia eg Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam. More recently, an outbreak in the America’s has occurred in may Caribbean islands which first started in late 2015, but continued into 2016 spreading further into more countries.

The Zika Virus itself is very much like Yellow fever and West Nile Virus; spread by a species of mosquito, or more recently reported sexual contact and blood tranfusion. The disease has typical symptoms like fever, headache, conjunctivitis and a rash. The condition is mild, only 1 in 5 people who contract Zika actually become ill and rarely people die of it; the real damage is done to unborn children and pregnant mothers.

The spread of Zika

What’s the risk to pregnant Women?

As there is no cure to the Zika Virus, may pregnant women are being warned to postpone their travels to areas where Zika has been reported. The infected blood, once bitten, stays in the system for approximately a week; but the governing body doesn’t know as of yet, if contracting the virus before you are pregnant can leave lasting damage.  The do know, from reports in Brazil that some unborn children with mothers who have contracted the Virus, are born with Micocephaly.

What is Microcephaly?

Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. . Microcephaly can occur because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth, which results in a smaller head size. This could be due to the mother contracting Zika during her pregnancy. Not only does the child have a smaller head size but they also experience other defects including;

  • Seizures
  • Developmental delay, such as problems with speech, sitting or walking
  • Intellectual disability (decreased ability to learn and function in daily life)
  • Problems with movement and balance
  • Feeding problems, such as difficulty swallowing
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision problems

Microcephaly is a life long condition with no known cure, and many people with the condition have lead happy ad fulfilling lives, but it can be prevented.

Prevention

As Zika is mostly spread during the day the CDC (Centres for Disease Control) has issued guidelines helping those in countries where Zika reports are at there highest;

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Sleep under a mosquito net if you  are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents.
  • Cover cribs, and prams with mosquito netting to protect a child/baby from bites.

Such simple things could protect so many people from a disease which causes damage to the most vulnerable people in our society.

What can we do?

Obviously not all of us can go over and give help to those most vulnerable but we can find a little spare cash to provide mosquito nets or just spreading the word to our friends, neighbours, peers. The more who know the more informed we are as a world community.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a little slice about the Zika Virus, and what you can do about it!

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