Zika virus is the latest health scare that has been spreading throughout the Central and South America since May 2015. In Brazil, Zika virus infection in pregnant women is linked to a birth defect known as microcephaly, a foetal deformation that limits brain development, leading to babies being born with abnormally small heads. Since October 2015, nearly 4,000 babies in Brazil have been born with suspected microcephaly.
Due to the rapid spread and seriousness of this disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged pregnant women to postpone their travel to the 21 affected locations in South America.
Although we have not seen any Zika virus infection reported in Malaysia, Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah strongly advised that all Malaysians take extra precautions in reducing their risk of infection, especially those that are planning to visit the countries that are affected by the outbreak.
Here are some important facts about the Zika virus:
How is Zika virus transmitted?
Zika virus infection is caused by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. The virus was isolated for the first time in 1947, in the Zika forest of Uganda. Since then, it has remained mainly in Africa, with small and on-and-off outbreaks in Asia.
What are the symptoms of Zika virus infection?
The symptoms of Zika virus infection are usually mild compared to dengue. According to the CDC, 80% of patients have reported that they did not feel any symptoms at all. But to those who did, the most common symptoms were fever, rashes, muscle and joint pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and conjunctivitis.
What is the difference between Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya?
All these diseases present similar symptoms, but certain symptoms suggest one disease or another:
- Dengue usually presents with higher fever and more severe muscle pain. There can be complications when the fever break
- Chikungunya presents with higher fever and more intense joint pain, affecting the hands, feet, knees and back
- Zika virus infection does not have clear characteristic features, but most patients have skin rashes and some with conjunctivitis
Can the virus be treated?
Similarly to dengue, treatment for Zika virus infection consists of relieving pain, fever and any other symptoms shown on patients. Currently, there is no vaccine nor anti-viral treatment available.
What measures should be taken to prevent Zika virus infection?
Prevention involves reducing mosquito populations and avoiding bites. Eliminating and controlling Aedes aegypti mosquito breeding sites also reduces the chances of Zika, dengue and chikungunya transmission.
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Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)