The Zika virus has been in the news because of its widening prevalence in Brazil and the perceived threat to the Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro in August 2016. The disease is caused by a virus transmitted through the bite of Aedes mosquitoes and has been reported from a growing list of countries in all continents.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito was originally found in tropical and subtropical zones, but is now found on all continents. The mosquito has noticeable black and white markings on their body and legs, and flies around during the day unlike most other species of mosquitoes. Mosquito breeding has increased because of climate change, deforestation, stagnant water and garbage dumps and has been spreading more in urban areas, causing larger outbreaks in crowded areas. Aedes also causes dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
People who have been bitten can become ill within 2-7 days. Those infected with the Zika virus have symptoms that usually include mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis (red eye), muscle and joint pain, listlessness and headache. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days and most patients recover completely after a mild illness. A few patients may develop severe neurological complications and there has been a marked increase in babies born with microcephaly (small head due to inadequate brain development) in Brazil.
There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available. The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites. This can be done through source reduction (removal and modification of breeding sites) and reducing contact between mosquitoes and people. In mosquito infested areas, use insect repellent regularly and wear clothes (preferably light-coloured) that cover as much of the body as possible. At home the entry of mosquitoes should be prevented by using physical barriers such as window screens, closed doors and windows; and additional personal protection, such as sleeping under mosquito nets during the day. Empty, clean or cover containers regularly that store water, such as buckets, drums, pots etc. Other mosquito breeding sites should be cleaned or removed including flower pots, used tyres and roof gutters. Larvicides may be used to treat relatively large water containers.
Though Zika virus has infected people on all continents, so far no cases have been reported in India, but scientists feel that it is only a matter of time before there is an outbreak in India, as the Aedes mosquito is found all over India and tourists and travelers may introduce the virus into the country.
The health ministry has issued travel advisories and suggested that people avoid non-essential travel to affected countries. According to the guidelines, pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant should defer their travel to the affected areas. It suggests that travelers diagnosed with febrile illness within two weeks of return from an affected country, should report to the nearest health facility. The guidelines also call for pregnant women who have travelled to areas with Zika virus transmission to mention about their travel during antenatal visits in order to be assessed and monitored appropriately.