Along came a virus: Here’s why people are panicking about Zika

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 28, 2016 10:18 IST
Gleyse Kelly da Silva, 27, holds her daughter Maria Giovanna, who was born with microcephaly, outside their house in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil. (AP)

Just as the world seemed to be coming to terms with incurable ailments such as AIDS and ebola, in flew the aedes aegypti mosquito – also the carrier of dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever – with a whole new challenge for the human race. Named after the Zika forest in Uganda, where it was observed in rhesus monkeys for the first time, the virus is responsible for one of the most alarming health crises to hit Brazil in decades: Thousands of babies are being born with unusually small heads.

Here’s everything you should know about the Zika virus.

What’s with all the panic?

Soon after the virus appeared in Brazil around November last year, the country saw a sharp jump in cases of microcephaly – children born with contracted heads, severely limiting their mental and physical abilities. Officials say they have found 4,180 suspected cases of microcephaly since late October, though only 270 have been confirmed.

Health technician Willian Araya shows the cultivated Aedes aegyti mosquito larvae at a laboratory in Ministry of Health in San Jose, Costa Rica. (REUTERS)

What are its symptoms?

Around 2-7 days after getting bitten by an infected mosquito, the affected person is affected by a mild fever accompanied by skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and general malaise. It lasts no more than a week.

Can a Zika virus infection prove fatal?

Considering that Zika is a new virus with very limited geographical and demographic distribution (at least till now), there is no evidence of it causing fatalities. Nevertheless, there have been reports of people with pre-existing medical conditions being further weakened by the ailment – resulting in their death.

Solange Ferreira bathes her son Jose Wesley in a bucket at their house in Poco Fundo, Pernambuco state, Brazil. Ferreira says her son enjoys being in the water, she places him in the bucket several times a day to calm him. (AP Photo)

How does the Zika virus spread?

The aedes aegypti mosquito is the most able carrier of the Zika virus. However, it can also be passed on from mother to child, blood transfusion and sex. It is not known to spread through impersonal person-to-person contact.

Does it have a cure?

The infection has no known cure or vaccine. However, its effects can be minimised through symptomatic treatment for pain and fever. Doctors also recommend relaxing and drinking plenty of water to control the fever.

Luiza has her head measured by a neurologist at the Mestre Vitalino Hospital in Caruaru, Pernambuco state, Brazil. (AP Photo)

Which countries have fallen to Zika, besides Brazil?

Most of the Zika-hit nations are located in Latin America and the Caribbean. They are Colombia (16,419), Caribbean nations (at least 200), Ecuador (33), Bolivia (4), El Salvador (2,474), Guatemala (68), Mexico (18), Panama (42), Costa Rica (1) and Nicaragua (2).

Can it come to India?

India is particularly vulnerable to mosquito-borne diseases, something aptly demonstrated by the 40,197 dengue cases that cropped up in 2014. All that’s needed by the virus to arrive here is a single Zika-affected person walking out of a plane from Brazil.

Read: India prepares for Zika virus, health ministry readies testing kits

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