The reason why I am writing about this health menace called Zika virus is not to sound alarmist, although this mosquito-borne virus is now plaguing Central and South America, after having been found mainly in tropical settings in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
But more than that, it is important to be aware, especially in the Philippines, that the Zika virus is transmitted mainly through the bite of the Aedes aegypti species of mosquito, the same type of mosquito that spreads dengue fever, chikungunya and yellow fever.
Global health authorities are warning that the Zika virus is predicted to most likely reach all countries and territories where the Aedes mosquitoes are found.
Zika virus disease outbreaks were reported for the first time from the Pacific in 2007 and 2013 (Yap and French Polynesia, respectively), and in 2015 from the Americas (Brazil and Colombia) and Africa (Cape Verde). In addition, more than 13 countries in the Americas have reported sporadic Zika virus infections indicating rapid geographic expansion of Zika virus.
The Zika virus is said to have ravaged Brazil, which has had more than 1 million cases in the past several months.
The symptoms are similar to other arbovirus infections such as dengue, and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache. These symptoms are usually mild and last for 2-7 days.
What is devastating and heartbreaking about the Zika virus is that it has also been associated with a rise of microcephaly birth defect cases. The birth defect is characterized by a malformed or smaller head and brain and can result in serious developmental delays.
Brazilian authorities, with help from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are investigating the possible link between Zika and microcephaly. Although health experts have not established a concrete connection, the CDC has confirmed that the Zika virus was found in two newborns who had microcephaly and later died, as well as in the placentas of two women who miscarried children with microcephaly.
The WHO-affiliated Pan American Health Organization has issued the following instructions to prevent the Zika virus spread:
• Mosquito populations should be reduced and controlled by eliminating breeding sites. Containers that can hold even small amounts of water where mosquitoes can breed, such as buckets, flowerpots or tires, should be emptied, cleaned or covered to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in them. This will also help to control dengue and chikungunya, which are also transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. Other measures include using larvicide to treat standing water.
• All people living in or visiting areas with Aedes mosquitoes should protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellent; wearing clothes (preferably light-colored) that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets, especially during the day when Aedes mosquitoes are most active.
• Pregnant women should be especially careful to avoid mosquito bites. Although Zika typically causes only mild symptoms, outbreaks in Brazil have coincided with a marked increase in microcephaly — or unusually small head size — in newborns. Women planning to travel to areas where Zika is circulating should consult a health-care provider before traveling and upon return. Women who think they have been exposed to Zika virus should consult with their health-care provider for close monitoring of their pregnancy. Any decision to defer pregnancy is an individual one between a woman, her partner and her health-care provider.