On January 14, the World Health Organisation declared that West Africa was free of the deadly haemorrhagic fever, Ebola. West Africa was the disease’s stronghold so the news was welcomed by all. It was as good as saying the world was Ebola free.
However, barely 24 hours after WHO’s declaration, the organisation made another announcement that there was a new probable case. The new case was in Sierra Leone and it came 43 days after the last known case. It was a sad report but the WHO, Center for Disease Control and all concerned authorities got to work.
Though Nigeria had promptly fought the war against Ebola when it found its way in, the country had started battling other life-threatening diseases almost immediately. The Avian Influenza, commonly known as Bird flu became the next headache. Though it is typically a poultry disease, the strain N5H1 found in Nigeria can be transmitted to humans. Then, as if that wasn’t enough Lassa fever, another type of viral haemorrhagic disease, reared its head. This time monkeys are not the key carriers as in the case of Ebola, but rats.
Nigeria has declared war on rats now. Sellers of rat poisons, rat gum, traps and house fumigators are making brisk business.
While Africa is struggling with Ebola and Lassa, Bird flu is showing up on all the continents. The sad news is that there is a new on in the Americas is Zika virus.
Zika is currently found in Brazil. Though the symptoms shown by people with Zika virus disease are only mild fever, skin rash and conjunctivitis − popularly known around here as Apollo − for about 2-7 days, it is a different story for pregnant women. The WHO said the disease affects the growth of the foetus, leading to microcephaly or stunted brain growth. One case of microcephaly linked to Zika virus has been established in Hawaii.
WHO is predicting that Zika will spread to all except two countries in the Americas, Canada and continental Chile. Concerns are also growing that the disease may become a worldwide issue with the 2016 summer Olympic Games coming up in Rio de Janeiro Brazil.
In the meantime though, here are facts you should know about Zika virus according to WHO:
- Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes.
- People with Zika virus disease usually have a mild fever, skin rash (exanthema) and conjunctivitis. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days.
- There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available.
- The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites.
- The virus is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
Zika virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito from the Aedes genus, mainly Aedes aegypti in tropical regions. This is the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
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.
Mosquitoes and their breeding sites pose a significant risk factor for Zika virus infection. Prevention and control relies on reducing mosquitoes through source reduction (removal and modification of breeding sites) and reducing contact between mosquitoes and people.
This can be done by using insect repellent; wearing clothes (preferably light-coloured) that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets. It is also important to empty, clean or cover containers that can hold water such as buckets, flower pots or tyres, so that places where mosquitoes can breed are removed.
Special attention and help should be given to those who may not be able to protect themselves adequately, such as young children, the sick or elderly.
During outbreaks, health authorities may advise that spraying of insecticides be carried out. Insecticides recommended by the WHO Pesticide Evaluation Scheme may also be used as larvicides to treat relatively large water containers.
Travellers should take the basic precautions described above to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
Zika virus disease is usually relatively mild and requires no specific treatment. People sick with Zika virus should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, they should seek medical care and advice. There is currently no vaccine available.