There is a new brain deforming disease caused by mosquitoes. It is called Zika. Its symptoms include; low fever, rash, headache and red eyes. It is estimated that the disease has infected about 1.5 million people in Brazil and is expected to hit the United States, Africa and other parts of the world soon.
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease primarily transmitted with the bite of the aedes aegypti mosquito. However, most infected persons are not aware that they carry the virus – four out five –as there are rarely symptoms. People don’t get sick and when they do, it’s usually very minor.
However, this is not the case for babies of infected mothers. On the 28th of November 2015, the Brazilian health ministry took a significant step by announcing a link between Zika and an increase in cases of microcephaly. Microcephaly is a rare neurological disorder in babies resulting in their being born with small craniums, limited brain development that could be deadly and sometimes, paralysis.
Last week Friday, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel warning to women, especially pregnant women about travelling to Southand Central America as well as to other countries around those regions. Other directives by the CDC include that pregnant women who have travelled to these regions be monitored for the virus. So far, Zika has been reported in at least 21 countries, with six states having declared a state of emergency in Brazil and women advised to delay getting pregnant.
The following countries had confirmed locally-acquired cases as of January 18, 2915: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, México, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname and Venezuela.
The Cable News Network, CNN, reports that in 2014, there were only 147 recorded cases of microcephaly, now there are thousands of cases, including dozens of possibly related infant deaths. Unfortunately, so far, there is no specific antiviral drug available for the treatment of Zika virus disease, or vaccine to prevent infection.
According to the CDC, “treatment is generally supportive and can include rest, fluids and use of analgesics and antipyretics.” It advised that once infected, one should be protected from further mosquito exposure especially in the first few days of illness to reduce the risk of local transmission. Travelers to affected areas are also advised to prevent mosquito bites by covering exposed skin and using mosquito repellent. It is also reported that mosquito bites and mother-to-foetus aren’t the only modes of transmission of the fast-spreading virus. Zika virus can also be transmitted through sexual relations, blood transfusions and laboratory exposure, experts said.
However, if there is to be a small ray of light in this ‘darkness’, it is said that an infected individual will likely develop an immunity to future infections. With the gradual but steady spread of Zika we are afraid that if urgent steps are not taken, it could assume greater dimension as the dreaded Ebola and HIV/AIDS. The matter is not helped by the upcoming Summer Olympics to be hosted by Brazil with over 4000 recorded cases.
We note the pledge by Brazilian authorities that inspections of Olympic facilities would begin four months before the Games to get rid of mosquito breeding grounds and that daily sweeps would take place during the competition, but urge the World Health Organization and other international and local health institutions to do all they can to nip this disease in the bud. Furthermore, with major international effort, there could possibly be a vaccine against Zika within the next couple of years.
Given the speed of its spread, it is important that the response from the health research community is faster than with Ebola. Zika is an important emerging disease outbreak and the world must apply the lessons that learnt from Ebola because Zika could be a major public health issue soon. On her part, the Federal government should direct relevant organs of government including the Federal Ministry of Health to immediately commence research to understand what is happening and how to prevent Zika from entering Nigeria – a country already devastated by malaria, also caused by mosquitoe bites.