It has already begun. The first ever Zika case has been reported and officially diagnosed in Malaysia after a family returned from Singapore infected with the disease. This now marks as a huge caution sign for all citizens in Malaysia to be wary, especially seeing how our neighbouring country has a total of 115 cases recorded with the first pregnant woman diagnosed.
It’s time to step out of our little bubble of ignorance and face the harsh reality that our country is now at risk of succumbing to this horrible disease. Being unaware of its severity will become the first step towards a downfall into another epidemic, so here’s a break down of everything you need to know about Zika.
Firstly, a little bit of background regarding the Zika virus. It was first identified back in 1947 through Rhesus monkeys which resulted in the virus being named after the forest in Uganda that this species were commonly found at. The first ever human case to have been infected by this was in 1952 and since then there have been outbreaks occurring in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.
Due to its similarity with other diseases, it remained on the down low until 2007 when the infection became more recognised. It wasn’t until May 2015 when the first case of infection in Brazil made news, where it then spread to 65 other countries in the Americas.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Zika a global Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) since February 2016, showing how crucial it is to take precautionary steps against this disease.
How Is It Spread?
Though it was primarily known that the Zika virus is mostly spread through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus), there have been multiple discussions and research conducted that shows how this disease can also be transmitted through other means.
- Through mosquito bites
As mentioned above, Zika is mainly transmitted to people through bites coming from infected Aedes species mosquitoes that are also known to spread dengue and chikungunya viruses.
These mosquitoes have a habit of laying eggs in or near places containing water such as buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots and bases. Though these mosquitoes are notorious of being aggressive biters during the daytime, they have also been prominently seen at night as well.
How it is transmitted is by the mosquitoes first becoming infected when they feed from a person who happens to already have the virus in their blood. The infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites.
- From mother to child
Pregnant women now face huge risk as they are able to pass the Zika virus to their unborn child during their pregnancy stage. Zika is a cause of microcephaly, a severe fetal brain defect that poses a long-term threat for the baby outwardly and inwardly. An infected pregnant woman can pass the virus to her fetus during pregnancy or around the time of birth.
There has yet to be any reports of infants getting affected by Zika through breastfeeding so mothers need not be so paranoid regarding that until further research has been done.
- Through sex
A recent discovery has shown that Zika can also be passed to another person via sexual intercourse. It can be passed from a person already infected with Zika but not exhibiting any proper symptoms, and the virus can even still be transmitted once the symptoms end.
Though not well documented, the virus may also be passed by a person who carries the virus but never develops symptoms.
Currently, multiple studies are underway to discover how long Zika stays in the semen and vaginal fluids of infected patients as well as the duration of time it takes to be passed to sexual partners. One discovery that is certain is how Zika can remain in semen longer than in other body fluids, including vaginal fluids, urine, and blood.
- Through blood transfusion
Multiple reports in Brazil have shown that Zika can also be transferred through blood transfusions. During the French Polynesian outbreak, 2.8% of blood donors tested positive for Zika and in previous outbreaks, the virus has been found in blood donors.
- Through laboratory exposure
Before the current outbreak, there have been a total of four reports of Zika virus infections happening in a laboratory, although the route of transmission was not clearly established in all cases. As of June 15, 2016, there has been one reported case of laboratory-acquired Zika virus disease in the United States.
Patients who find themselves infected with Zika may be taken aback as there are no obvious symptoms and you most likely will not even know you have the virus until diagnosed. Some cases may only involve a mild illness with certain symptoms such as having a rash, conjunctivitis, fever and headaches. These usually develop within three to 12 days after the mosquito bite and often last between four and seven days.
Microcephaly happens to be one of the main signs of this virus besides other congenital abnormalities in babies who are born from infected mothers carrying the virus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated a possible scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.
There is yet to be any concrete reports of patients dying purely just from the Zika infection seeing as how the infected people who have died also had underlying conditions.
Prevent Before Needing To Cure
Unfortunately there is yet to be a vaccine found that can help stop the spread of this viral infection. However, scientists from the Institut Pasteur in collaboration with Imperial College London and the University of Vienna, Austria, have been able to identify antibodies that can efficiently neutralise both the dengue virus and the Zika virus.
This makes it a super-vaccine that can tackle two diseases at once, possibly because of how similar the dengue virus is to Zika as they belong to the same viral family known as Flaviviridae, and are transmitted by the same mosquito.
The only treatment for people diagnosed with Zika is for the patients to get plenty of rest, drink a lot of fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines.
Due to there being a lack of a true cure, prevention is the best step to take. Here are a few guidelines that Malaysians can implement in hopes of warding off this infection from spreading in your area.
- Pregnant women are not advised to travel to areas where Zika is circulating
- Partners of pregnant women who are returning from areas where Zika is circulating should abstain from sexual intercourse throughout the pregnancy period.
- Practice the usgae of insect repellants regularly, especially during hours where mosquitoes are more known to spread such as during dusk and dawn hours.
- Wear clothing that covers your entire body more often, such as long-sleeved shirts and trousers.
- Use air conditioning and/or a window screen to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Use a mosquito net around your bed when you sleep.
- Reduce the risk of mosquitoes breeding by emptying containers such as flowerpots and vases that may have water in them.
While it may seem like just another disease similar to dengue, it carries its huge risks therefore Malaysians, don’t wait till it’s too late to take action.
Feature Image Credit: sciencemag.org and medicaldaily.com