On Feb 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) described Zika as having potentially “explosive pandemic potential” and declared it a global public health emergency.
The virus relatively harmless has a massive outbreak that started last year in Brazil becoming a major concern because of emerging links to microcephaly – a congenital disorder that can shrink unborn babies’ brains and heads and reduce life expectancy according to various medical sources.
The virus with similar symptoms to malaria and dengue fever has similar prevention measures according to Dr. Mohamed Ali Sood, Infectious Disease Specialist in Kenya.
‘’It is by destroying the breeding grounds of mosquitoes that can prevent the spread of the Zika virus and taking precautions against mosquito bites such as using insect repellent and mosquito nets,” Dr. Sood stated.
Similar to Malaria, the Zika virus is mosquito-borne and it is spread when the Aedes mosquito bites an infected person then passes the virus on to all other people that it bites.
An infected person is only a carrier if they are symptomatic; after that, chances are low that they could pass the disease on to others.
Unborn children are at special risk because they can get infected with the dangerous virus through their mother’s amniotic fluid.
Dr. Sood further states that the Zika virus has mutated over time and is part of the flavi virus family which consists of Dengue fever, Malaria and Yellow fever, which are difficult to treat.
“Only the symptoms of the Zika virus can be treated, which is also the case with Dengue fever,” the medical expert said.
He however cautions of uncertainty in the progression of the virus.
The scare has forced health officials at the Kenya-Tanzania border to intensify screening with the health officials making it compulsory for travelers to be screened before crossing the border to either of the countries.
Zika is a mosquito-borne disease that normally has symptoms similar to the dengue and chikungunya viruses, which are spread by the same genus of insect.
Named after the Zika Forest near Lake Victoria in Uganda, where it was first isolated in 1947 from a captive monkey, it has since spread across equatorial Africa and, more recently, to Asia, Pacific Polynesia and now South America, but only 14 “sporadic” human cases were detected until 2007.
Zika has affected almost 30 countries already, mainly in the Americas. The current outbreak started in Brazil, where almost 4,000 cases have been reported since last May.
Another outbreak began in Cape Verde, an archipelago off the north-west coast of Africa, in September. Almost 5,000 cases had been recorded there by the end of December.
The severity of the effects varies from child to child. Babies with microcephaly can experience stunted cognitive development, and delays in their motor and speech skills.
It can also affect other parts of the body by distorting the face, and by causing dwarfism.
Symptoms & treatment
According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.
The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika.
Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week but it can be found longer.
However, there is no vaccine to prevent or specific medicine to treat Zika infections says CDC.
– Wamoyi. M.M., AfricanQuarters Kenya