Friday, February 12, 2016


What is the Zika virus?
Zika is a newly-emerging virus that began ringing public health alarm bells in May 2015, in Brazil, and is now spreading rapidly. This follows a dramatic increase in recent months and years of two other viral infections that cause similar illnesses, chikungunya and dengue fever.
How is the virus spread?
Zika is an arbovirus (arthropod-borne virus), spread by bites from Aedes mosquitoes – which are also responsible for spreading other viruses such as dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Without mosquitoes, individual sufferers are not directly contagious, but blood-borne infection may be a possible risk and guidelines on blood donation and transfusion will need to be updated.
What are its effects?
Until very recently Zika was thought to cause only a minor illness, with up to 80 per cent of individuals experiencing no symptoms. People with symptoms usually suffer from a fever lasting four to seven days, possibly accompanied by a rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and headache, commencing two to seven days following exposure.
The defects are anencephaly – failure of brain development – which is lethal at birth, and microcephaly – reduced brain development – which generally leads to lasting impairment. The risk is potentially present at all stages of pregnancy.
People infected with Zika virus seem also to be at increased risk of a rare neurological condition called Guillain Barré syndrome (also known as GBS), believed to be triggered by an immune reaction. Nerve damage can lead to muscle weakness, paralysis and other neurological symptoms. Despite the increase in cases, this still remains a rare occurrence.
What are the implications for travellers?
Until more is known, public health authorities are advising pregnant women to be extremely cautious about travelling to countries where Zika is present, with careful anti-mosquito precautions as an absolute minimum. With the Olympics due to take place in Rio in August this outbreak could hardly have come at a worse time.
More alarming still is the fact that Zika is likely to spread much further, since Aedes mosquitoes are widely present in hot countries.
What preventive measures are available?
There is no vaccine, but rapid development of a new vaccine might ultimately be the best prospect for controlling Zika, and the recent global response to the Ebola outbreak may help facilitate this.
Public health measures are vital to keep Aedes mosquito populations under control, but this can be notoriously difficult to do.
Aedes mosquitoes bite during the day as well as at night: therefore it is important to reduce numbers of bites to the extent possible:
  1.      Cover up
  2.         Use plenty of DEET-based insect repellent
  3.        Apply repellent to skin and clothing
  4.         Use room sprays and plug-in mosquito killers
  5.         Use mosquito nets at night

A Which? survey found that many popular high-street insect repellents provided ineffective protection against the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The consumer association tested 19 brands of repellent, and found that only six offered 100 per cent protection.
The best performers included Lifesystems Expedition Plus 50+, Tesco Insect Protection Max Strength, Sainsbury’s Extra Strength Insect Repellent and Superdrug Buzz Off, all of which include the ingredient DEET.
Some consumers avoid DEET-containing products because the chemical has a strong smell and can irritate skin.
Weak performers included Lifesystems Natural Plus 30+ and Incognito Anti-Mosquito, although Howard Carter, founder of Incognito, said the Which? test results were "unreliable".
About Zika virus
The most common symptoms of the Zika disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), usually lasting from several days to a week, and most patients don't need hospitalisation. However the outbreak in Brazil has led to instances of Guillain-Barre syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects
How it spreads
  1. Through mosquitoes, which mostly spread the virus during the day
  2. Through sexual transmission
  3. Mosquitoes also spread dengue and chikungunya viruses
  4. There is no vaccine
How to prevent it
  1. Avoid getting mosquito bites by using insect repellants, and wearing long-sleeved shirts and trousers
  2. Use air conditioning and/or a window screen to keep mosquitoes outside
  3. Sleep under a mosquito bed net
  4. Reduce the number of mosquitoes by emptying standing water from containers such as flowerpots or bucket


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