Why the Zika virus is caus­ing alarm

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Global health of­fi­cials are racing to bet­ter un­der­stand the Zika virus be­hind a ma­jor out­break that be­gan in Brazil last year and has spread to more than 60 coun­tries. The fol­low­ing are some ques­tions and an­swers about the virus and cur­rent out­break:

How do peo­ple be­come in­fected?

Zika is trans­mit­ted to peo­ple through the bite of in­fected fe­male mos­qui­toes, pri­mar­ily the Aedes ae­gypti mos­quito, the same type that spreads dengue, chikun­gunya and yel­low fever. Aedes ae­gypti mos­qui­toes are found in all coun­tries in the Amer­i­cas ex­cept Canada and con­ti­nen­tal Chile. The virus can also be trans­mit­ted through sex, from ei­ther a male or fe­male part­ner who has been in­fected, and a few cases of ap­par­ent in­fec­tion via blood trans­fu­sion have been re­ported.

How do you treat Zika?

There is no treat­ment for Zika in­fec­tion. Com­pa­nies and sci­en­tists are racing to de­velop a safe and ef­fec­tive vac­cine, but a pre­ven­ta­tive shot is not ex­pected to be ready for wide­spread use for at least two or three years.

How dan­ger­ous is it?

The US Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion con­cluded that Zika virus in­fec­tion in preg­nant women can cause the birth de­fect mi­cro­cephaly. The con­di­tion is de­fined by un­usu­ally small heads that can re­sult in de­vel­op­men­tal prob­lems and other se­vere brain ab­nor­mal­i­ties in ba­bies. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has said the “most likely ex­pla­na­tion” is that Zika virus in­fec­tion dur­ing preg­nancy is a cause of con­gen­i­tal brain ab­nor­mal­i­ties in­clud­ing mi­cro­cephaly. In ad­di­tion, the agency said that Zika in­fec­tion in chil­dren and adults can trig­ger Guil­lain-Barre syn­drome (GBS), a rare neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der that can re­sult in paral­y­sis. Brazil has con­firmed more than 2,100 cases of mi­cro­cephaly be­lieved to be linked to Zika in­fec­tions in preg­nant women. It is in­ves­ti­gat­ing 3,086 sus­pected cases of mi­cro­cephaly. Cur­rent re­search in­di­cates the great­est mi­cro­cephaly risk is associated with in­fec­tion dur­ing the first trimester of preg­nancy, but health of­fi­cials have warned an im­pact could be seen in later weeks. Re­cent stud­ies have shown ev­i­dence of Zika in am­ni­otic fluid, pla­centa and fe­tal brain tis­sue.

What are the symp­toms?

Peo­ple in­fected with Zika may have a mild fever, skin rash, con­junc­tivi­tis, mus­cle and joint pain and fa­tigue that can last for two to seven days. As many as 80 per­cent of peo­ple in­fected never de­velop symp­toms.

How can Zika be con­tained?

Con­trol­ling Zika’s spread re­quires elim­i­nat­ing mos­quito breed­ing sites and tak­ing pre­cau­tions against mos­quito bites such as us­ing in­sect re­pel­lent and mos­quito nets. US and in­ter­na­tional health of­fi­cials have ad­vised preg­nant women to avoid travel to Latin Amer­i­can and Caribbean coun­tries, sec­tions of Mi­ami, Florida in the United States and Sin­ga­pore where they may be ex­posed to Zika. They are also ad­vis­ing that men and women who have trav­eled to Zika out­break ar­eas use con­doms or ab­stain from sex for six months to prevent sex­ual trans­mis­sion of the virus.

Ac­tive Zika out­breaks have been re­ported in more than 60 coun­tries or ter­ri­to­ries, most of them in the Amer­i­cas, ac­cord­ing to the US Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC). Brazil has been the coun­try most af­fected. Africa (1): Cape Verde; Amer­i­cas (49): An­guilla, An­tigua and Bar­buda, Ar­gentina, Aruba, The Ba­hamas, Bar­ba­dos, Belize, Bo­livia, Bon­aire, Brazil, Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, Cay­man Is­lands, Colom­bia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cu­raÁao, Do­minica, Do­mini­can Repub­lic, Ecuador, El Sal­vador, French Guiana, Gre­nada, Guade­loupe, Gu­atemala, Guyana, Haiti, Hon­duras, Ja­maica, Mar­tinique, Mex­ico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saba, Puerto Rico, Saint Barthelmy, Saint Lu­cia, Saint Martin, Saint Vin­cent and the Gre­nadines, Saint Eus­tatius, St Maarten, St Kitts and Ne­vis, Suri­name, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, United States, US Vir­gin Is­lands and Venezuela. Asia, Ocea­nia and Pa­cific Is­lands (11): Amer­i­can Samoa, Fiji, Kos­rae, Fed­er­ated States of Mi­crone­sia, Mar­shall Is­lands, New Cale­do­nia, Palau, Pa­pua New Guinea, Samoa, Sin­ga­pore and Tonga.

What is the his­tory of Zika?

The Zika virus is found in trop­i­cal lo­cales with large mos­quito pop­u­la­tions. Out­breaks of Zika have been recorded in Africa, the Amer­i­cas, South­ern Asia and the West­ern Pa­cific. The virus was first iden­ti­fied in Uganda in 1947 in rhe­sus mon­keys and was first iden­ti­fied in peo­ple in 1952 in Uganda and Tan­za­nia, ac­cord­ing to the WHO.

What other com­pli­ca­tions?

Zika has also been associated with other neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders, in­clud­ing se­ri­ous brain and spinal cord in­fec­tions. The longterm health con­se­quences of Zika in­fec­tion are un­clear. Other un­cer­tain­ties sur­round the in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod of the virus and how Zika in­ter­acts with other viruses that are trans­mit­ted by mos­qui­toes, such as dengue.

—AFP

MEX­ICO CITY: Photo shows a mos­quito in Mex­ico City. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion on Novem­ber 18, 2016 an­nounced in an on­line press con­fer­ence that the Zika virus out­break no longer poses a world pub­lic health emer­gency.

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