Understanding Zika: An Overview

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The Zika virus has been a cause of alarm for most Singaporeans ever since the virus began spreading in the middle of this year. However, it appears that most of us did not know the symptoms, the diagnosis, and the treatment as well as how we can prevent it. To truly understand Zika, we need to go back to the basic and understand how it works.

History of Zika
Zika virus was identified in 1947 and named after the Zika Forest in Uganda. The first transmitted case to humans happened in 1952, and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been recorded in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. It is likely that Zika outbreaks have happened in many other locations, but due to its symptoms being similar to other diseases, there is a possibility that many Zika cases were not documented.

How Zika spreads
The Zika virus is transmitted through the following ways:

  1. The bite of the Aedes Mosquitoes
    This is the primary method in which a person can be infected by the Zika virus. The virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, the very ones which also spread dengue fever. When these mosquitoes feed on a person infected with the Zika virus, it becomes infected as well. Anyone who gets bitten by an infected mosquito will get the virus too.
  2. From a pregnant mother to her baby
    A pregnant woman infected with the Zika virus can pass the virus to her foetus during pregnancy or at the time of birth. The virus is known to be a likely cause of microcephaly and other serious brain defects in the baby, but it has not been fully confirmed. Studies are still on-going to determine other possible health problems during pregnancy linked to the Zika virus.
  3. Sexual Intercourse
    Zika can be spread through sex from an infected person to his or her partner, even if the person did not develop any symptoms. It is found that Zika can spread from person to person before, during and after their symptoms start and end. It is even suggested the Zika virus can be spread if an infected person did not have any symptoms. Currently, there are studies on-going to see how long it stays in the semen and vaginal fluid of people who have Zika as well as the duration in which it can be passed through sexual intercourse.
  4. Blood Transfusion (currently still under observation)
    It has not been established whether blood transfusion is a way for Zika to be spread. However, studies are on-going as there have been cases in Brazil where Zika is claimed to be spread through blood transfusion.

The Symptoms of Zika
Most people who are infected with Zika do not have symptoms or have very mild symptoms that are similar to other diseases such as the common flu. The most prevalent symptoms of Zika are

  • – Fever
  • – Rash
  • – Joint Pain
  • – Conjunctivitis (Red Eyes)
  • – Muscle Pain
  • – Headache

These symptoms usually last for at least several days up to a week. They are usually mild so people might not even visit a doctor. Zika is a not a life-threatening disease, so it is hard to detect when a person gets infected with the virus. Once a person has been infected with Zika, he is likely to develop antibodies to prevent future infections.

Diagnosis of Zika Virus
The diagnosis of Zika is dependent on a person’s latest travel history, symptoms and blood/urine test results. It is very difficult for doctors to determine a confirmed diagnosis for Zika due to the similarity of its symptoms to other diseases such as the common flu and dengue fever. Usually, doctors will order several tests to determine a few infections and diagnosed Zika based on an elimination method.

What you can do if you are diagnosed with Zika
Due to the complexity of the virus, there is currently no known vaccine for the virus. Doctors can only treat the symptoms and wait for the infection to run its natural course. Nonetheless, a person who has been diagnosed with Zika can do the following:

  • – Take plenty of rest – sleep is the best cure
  • – Drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration – water is the best, even though you can also consider fruit juices such as orange juice
  • – Take prescribed medicine by your doctor only – do not self-medicate
  • – Inform your doctor immediately if you develop new symptoms or allergy reactions after taking the prescribed medicine

Prevention
Prevention is always better than cure especially when ZIka has no known vaccine or cure. The best way to prevent Zika is to reduce the breeding of mosquitoes and take precaution on exposure to mosquitos’ bites.

    1. Insect Repellent (Outdoors)
      It is known that insect repellent containing DEET is effective against the mosquitoes. Find a suitable repellent that contain DEET when you need to be outdoors. As long as you used the product as directed, you should be able to prevent mosquitos’ bites. Do take note that babies below 2 months old should not be exposed to insect repellent.
    2. Stop the breeding of mosquitoes (Indoors)
      Follow the 5 steps Mozzie Wipeout to keep your home safe from Aedes mosquitoes. As a refresher, here are the 5 steps:
      1. Change water in vases and bowls on alternate days.
      2. Pour out any water from flower pot plates on alternate days. Clean and scrub these plates to remove any mosquito eggs that might be there.
      3. Turn over all water storage containers to prevent little pools of water from collecting.
      4. Loosen soil from potted plants to prevent stagnant water on surface of harden soil.
      5. Clear blockages and put insecticide in roof gutters monthly to prevent build-up of stagnant water.

You can also make use of mosquitoes netting to keep your house safe from mosquitoes. These can be easily bought at DIY stores or online.

  1. Sexual Intercourse
    If you suspect that you might have been infected, avoid having sex with your partner. Go to a doctor and get some tests done to verify if you are indeed infected. Once diagnosed, it is advisable to avoid sex for up to 8 weeks to prevent transmitting the disease to your partner.

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