What you need to know about the Zika virus

 

BY NICKY IREETA KASHOKYE 

It is now public information that the Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalisation is uncommon.

Although Uganda’s health ministry is keen to point out that it has no known cases of the virus, and that the current Americas’ outbreak did not originate in East Africa, Uganda has suffered outbreaks of Ebola in the past, as well as a mysterious illness known as “nodding disease”.

The Zika forest, located close to the main highway from Uganda’s international airport at Entebbe, remains a research site for the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), an environmental health and protection agency.

On January 4, Daily Monitor , a local daily reported a story of three rare illnesses in Lamwo District, West Nile sub-region.

After a team of experts from the Ministry of Health, Agriculture, the World Health Organisation and Makerere University spent one week tracking the ‘strange disease’, they revealed their findings as Yellow fever, West Nile fever and Zika virus fever.

What is the Zika virus? 

Zika virus is a member of the Flaviviridae virus family and the flavivirus genus. In humans, it causes Zika fever. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), about one in five people infected with Zika virus become ill with the most common symptoms of Zika being fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache.

The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is normally two to seven days. People with the Zika virus disease usually have a mild fever, skin rash (exanthema) and conjunctivitis.

The World Health Organization’s emergency committee on February 1 debated whether the Zika virus outbreak suspected of causing a surge in serious birth defects in South America should be considered a global health emergency.

Since then, there have been 270 confirmed cases of microcephaly and 3,448 suspected cases, up from 147 in 2015.

The virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypt i mosquito, which also spreads dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. It produces flu-like symptoms including a low-grade fever, headaches, joint pain and rashes.

WHO has so far refrained from issuing travel warnings related to Zika, stressing that the most effective form of prevention is getting rid of stagnant water where mosquitoes easily breed, and personal protection against mosquito bites such as using bug repellant and sleeping under mosquito nets.

Prevention, control 

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.

“The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites,” the WHO said in a statement.

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