Zika virus belongs to flaviviruses and causes Zika virus infection in humans. This virus is similar to yellow fever, dengue fever and West Nile virus. It was named after the Zika Forest in Uganda near Victoria Lake it was discovered in 1947. Zika virus disease is common in some parts of Africa and Asia. However, starting from 2015, cases of the disease have occurred in South America spreading rapidly to Central America.
Zika virus is mainly transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito Aedes Aegipti in the tropical and subtropical regions. These mosquitoes are known to be very aggressive; they bite during the day, usually in the early morning, late afternoon and evening.
Also, Zika virus can be transmitted sexually, through blood transfusions, and from mother to child via the placenta or during a childbirth. It cannot be transmitted by air (by sneezing or coughing) or physical contact – such as handling, hugs or kisses.
There is no cure or vaccine for preventing Zika virus infection. If you are visiting or live in areas affected with Zika virus it is important to implement personal protection measures against Aedes mosquitoes. Those measures include use of mosquito repellent and also use of mosquito nets on beds, windows and doors. As well as wearing appropriate dress to cover as much skin as possible.
Incubation of this disease (the time from exposure to symptoms) lasts from 3 to 12 days. Most of the people infected with Zika virus do not develop any visible symptoms, and if the symptoms do occur, those are usually mild. Only 1 in 5 Zika-infected patients have symptoms such as fever, rash, conjunctivitis, headache, and bone and joint pain. The duration of the Zika virus infection is usually 2-7 days and goes away without severe complications, hospitalization and deaths.
Because there is no vaccine or cure for Zika virus, treatment consists of relieving symptoms by drinking plenty of fluids, administering medication to reduce fever, and using painkillers.
The diagnosis of this disease is based on symptoms and information if the person has traveled to Zika-infected areas. The diagnosis is confirmed by lab tests of blood (or other body fluids such as urine test or saliva test) for the presence of Zika virus RNA.
It is important to emphasize that Zika virus can be especially dangerous for pregnant women. If an infected mosquito bites a pregnant woman, it can spread into the placenta and affects the fetus. Women who become infected with the Zika virus during the pregnancy have an increased risk of microcephaly, which includes the birth of children with abnormally small heads and brain damage. Zika infection in pregnancy can also induce pregnancy complications such as fetal loss, stillbirth, and preterm birth. Pregnant women can be infected at any time during pregnancy, but the first trimester of pregnancy is considered to be the riskiest period for the occurrence of these abnormalities.
It is important to know that Zika virus infection can be a trigger for Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disease that causes muscle weakness and paralysis, especially in adults and older children. An increased number of Guillain-Barré syndromes have been observed in countries with the Zika epidemic.
All travelers planning to leave for at-risk areas should prepare themselves to take adequate precautions. Pregnant women and women planning a pregnancy are advised to delay the trip, and if this is not possible, it is important that they strictly implement personal protection measures against mosquitoes at all times. Also, any traveler who develops the symptoms described above within three weeks of returning from the specified risk areas should make sure to contact their doctor.