Even as India is just stepping out of stringent lockdowns with the second wave of COVID-19 declining steadily, another dangerous disease has been detected in the country. On July 8, 2021, Thursday, Kerala reported 13 cases of Zika virus for the first time this year. The condition was confirmed to be Zika virus after thorough testing by experts at the National Institute Of Virology (NIV) in Pune, Maharashtra, who analysed the samples received from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Doctors decided to collect blood from these patients after a 24-year-old pregnant woman reported symptoms of fever, headache and red rashes on the skin. These are all characteristic of Zika virus disease, an ailment transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, which also triggers other vector-borne illnesses such as dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya. Additionally, a few more patients in Kerala also displayed similar symptoms and subsequent lab tests confirmed it to be owing to the Zika virus, with the total case tally at 21 people overall as of today.
Since mosquitoes are a persistent bane of the monsoon season in India, which extends from June through November across the subcontinent, the Health Departments of the neighbouring states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have issued warnings to the medical fraternity and the general public to take all necessary precautions to prevent an epidemic of Zika virus. Until now, however, there is no conclusive evidence of a Zika virus outbreak in Kerala or any other region in India, which is a minor relief in these challenging times. Nevertheless, it is important for the general public to adhere to preventive measures as much as possible to thwart mosquito bites since Zika induces some deadly complications in severe cases and also be aware of the causes, symptoms and treatment of Zika virus disease, also called Zika fever.
Causes Of Zika Virus:
Zika virus disease is caused by the Zika virus, which spreads from a sick person to a healthy individual by means of a mosquito bite from infected Aedes mosquitoes – Aedes aegypti, Aedes albopictus, which carry the virus particles. These mosquitoes predominantly sting people during the day, but can sometimes also attack at night. The Zika virus belongs to the Flaviviridae family of viruses and was first isolated from the Ziika forest in Uganda, Africa in 1947. It was mostly reported to cause illness in people living in the tropical parts near the equator in Africa and Asia since the 1950s, but from 2007 to 2016 has spread farther west to countries in North America and South America. Furthermore, the Zika virus can also be transmitted from a diseased person through sexual contact, or transfusion of contaminated blood.
The Zika virus, which shares some genetic similarities with the dengue virus, West Nile virus and chikungunya, mostly only triggers mild symptoms of slight fever, body pain and headache but can lead to grave consequences when passed on from a pregnant woman to the newborn such as microcephaly, stunted brain development and few more birth defects. In rare instances, Zika virus disease in adults results in Guillain-Barre Syndrome, wherein the body’s immune system attacks its own nerves, leading to weak muscles and paralysis.
The incubation period of the Zika virus, which is the time it takes from exposure to and contraction of infection to prominent display of symptoms is 3 – 14 days. The majority of individuals who develop Zika virus disease do not show any symptoms.
The typical symptoms of Zika virus disease when exhibited by sick people are usually mild and comprise:
- Rashes on skin with redness
- Soreness in the muscles
- Joint pain
- Body weakness
- Conjunctivitis i.e. red eyes
- Abdominal discomfort and diarrhoea
Diagnosis And Treatment:
Zika virus disease is usually diagnosed in a person displaying symptoms, based on their area of residence, whether they have been near spots where mosquitoes breed in large numbers or have recently travelled to locations where Zika virus is reported often. A diagnosis of Zika virus disease can be confirmed only after a complete screening of the patient’s blood sample by laboratory testing, to probe the presence of the pathogenic viruses.
Presently, no elaborate treatment protocol or cure is available to resolve Zika virus disease. The healthcare provider advises the patient to take adequate rest, drink lots of water and fluids and prescribes common medications to combat fever, body pain and headaches. Extra caution is recommended to pregnant women who display symptoms, to get tested immediately and undergo treatment for Zika fever, to ensure the health of the mother and child and avert serious or fatal events of preterm birth or stillbirth.
There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus disease. However, following some basic tips to stave off mosquito bites both indoors and while travelling helps to prevent the spread of the Zika virus. These include:
- Wearing full-sleeved clothing when travelling in tropical areas
- Using insect repellants and mosquito nets at home, especially during the daytime, to shield against Aedes mosquito bites
- Cleaning surrounding at home, particularly containers and spaces filled with liquid where mosquitoes can breed and emptying out buckets of water sitting still regularly