The current Zika virus outbreak has been identified in more than twenty-two countries across the globe. A recent report said American authorities have already confirmed a dozen cases of the disease within the United States. Joyce Remi- Babayeju, examines the disease which causes the brain of newborns to shrink, meaning the brain of a child might not follow the normal developmental process.
The World Health Organization recently declared that the outbreak is “likely to spread across Americas,” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have asked pregnant American women to postpone journeys to affected countries.
The outbreak has led many governments, including those of Ecuador, Colombia and Jamaica, to request that women postpone having children, with El Salvador’s deputy health minister advising their citizens to wait two years before trying to fall pregnant.
And while there is no cure or vaccine at the moment, the CDC issued clear guidance to women who are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant: delay trips to areas with Zika to decrease risk of contracting the virus.
Before now little or nothing was known about this virus which scientists say is caused by a species of mosquito known as Aedes mosquitoes.
Scientists say that Zika virus belongs to the category of Yellow fever and Dengue fever.
The effect of the fever on humans is that new breed of children born with Zika virus infection are born with Microcephaly which is characterised by half head and undeveloped brain. They just look different from normal children.
Researchers say that Zika virus might be behind the rise of microcephaly, which is a birth defect associated with a small head and incomplete brain development in newborns which eventually leads to neurological condition in adults thereby endangering the next generation.
In Mexico, the disease has affected more than 13, 000 women and this have made health authorities to warn women not to get pregnant soon.
According to WHO report since January 2016 there is an alert from the US Centre for Disease Control, CDC, warning women in America, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and El-Salvador to avoid getting pregnant now and that pregnant women should not travel to affected countries.
Reports indicate Brazil has recorded more than twenty times Microcephaly cases since last year. Presently, the number of babies born with suspected microcephaly in Brazil, a condition in babies born has reached nearly 4,000 since October, 2015. Others have been detected in the south-east, an area which includes Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
Also in Colombia, more than 13,500 cases of Zika have been reported. And there has been prevalence in the number of cases of the disease in several other Latin American countries.
Signs of Microcephaly include below average head size often caused by failure of brain to grow at normal rate with head circumference measuring less than 31.5- 32 centimeter at birth and it has affected 25,000 children in the US each year.
According to WHO report, the Zika virus is an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in Rhesus monkeys through a monitoring network of sylvatic yellow fever. It was subsequently identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. The genre is known as Flavivirus and the Vector is Aedes mosquitoes which usually bite during the morning and late afternoon/evening hours.
Scientists say when a mosquito bites an infected person, draws blood, and contracts the virus and then it goes and bites another person, the virus spreads.
However, Mosquito bites is not the only means of spreading Zika because studies have also shown that people infected with Zika can pass on the virus to others through sexual intercourse, through blood transmission and mother-to-fetus during pregnancy.
People with Zika virus disease usually have mild fever, skin rash (exanthema) and conjunctivitis, red eyes. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days.
There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available. The virus is not contagious and normally has flu-like symptoms.
The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bite and to clear stagnant water where mosquitoes breed.
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.
WHO says it is supporting countries to control Zika virus disease through: strengthening of surveillance; building the capacity of laboratories to detect the virus; working with countries to eliminate mosquito populations; preparing recommendations for the clinical care and monitoring of persons with Zika virus infection; and defining and supporting priority areas of research into Zika virus disease and possible complications.