The World Health Organization has declared the Zika outbreak as a global public-health emergency and has cautioned that the virus could affect up to 4 million people in 23 countries. But should we, in India, be worried? Let’s understand more about it.
What is Zika Virus disease?
Zika disease is a mosquito borne viral infection.The virus has been reported to be circulating in over 23 countries and territories with recent outbreaks in Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
How does it spread?
It spreads through mosquito bites, not person to person. People catch Zika virus by being bitten by an infected Aedes mosquito – the same type of mosquito that spreads dengue and chikungunya.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms are almost similar to those caused by the dengue fever. These include mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis,muscle pain and headache lasting 2-7 days. It is usually a mild disease and rarely requires hospitalization.
Why is it a public-health emergency?
Though it causes a mild disease in most of the patients, Zika poses a significant risk for pregnant women who get infected with this virus.
There is strong evidence of a link between the Zika virus and a birth defect called ‘Microcephaly’ in which babies are born with undersized brains and skulls. Indian authorities have warned pregnant women not to travel to countries affected by Zika virus.
Another possible health risk is a suspected link between Zika and an increase in the number of cases of ‘Guillain-Barre Syndrome’, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks nerve cells. It can cause temporary paralysis that can last for weeks.
Are Indians at risk?
Till now India has not reported any case of Zika virus infection. However, Indian population is vulnerable to Zika virus as it is spread by the same Aedes mosquito that spreads dengue and chikungunya viruses.
Also the symptoms in a person infected by Zika are almost similar to those caused by dengue. The challenge for healthcare professionals in India will be to distinguish Zika cases from a dengue outbreak, contain it in a country that is full of densely-populated cities and known for dengue outbreaks.
Keeping these things in mind, The Government of India is preparing protocols for preventing, detecting and containing the spread of Zika Virus.
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What can you do to prevent it?
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus disease. Prevention against mosquito bites is the best form of protection. This includes preventing mosquitoes from breeding by emptying or covering containers that can hold water, wearing full sleeved clothing when going out and using mosquito repellent creams during daytime.