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Zika Virus Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Complications, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

Updated on July 9, 2017

What Is Zika Virus Disease?

Zika virus disease is a vector-borne disease, which was first discovered in the 1940s. In May 2015, health officials in Brazil made public the discovery of an outbreak of Zika virus. It was the first outbreak to reach the Americas, the virus having been previously confined to Africa and Asia.

One in Five People Infected with Zika Virus Become Sick

According to CDC, one in five people infected with the virus causing the disease become sick. Zika attack rate of 0.01 percent would cost society $183.4 million, including both direct medical costs and productivity losses, resulting from the burden of the disease.

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Zika Virus Origin: Zika Virus Was First Isolated in the 1940s in the Zika Forest in Uganda

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Causes of Zika Virus Disease

Zika virus disease is caused by the bite of the infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, which becomes active in warmer weather. It is also known as "cockroach" mosquito for its ability to live indoors and reproduce even in tiny pools of water.

Zika Virus Is a Virus from Hell

The mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus (ZIKV), a re-emerging Flavivirus, also spread viruses that cause dengue and chickengunya. Zika virus belongs to the Flaviviridae family. Many experts in the field of medicine call Zika virus a virus from hell. It resembles a dropped gumball that got covered in dirt.

Mosquito Is the Vector Of Zika Virus Disease

If a mosquito takes a blood meal from a person who has Zika virus circulating in his or her blood, the mosquito can become infected and can transmit the virus when it takes another blood meal.

A Pregnant Woman Can Pass Zika to Her Developing Fetus

An infected pregnant lady can pass this disease on to her child in utero. Zika virus disease can be transmitted through sexual intercourse. Infected doner of cell, blood or tissue can pass the disease on to the recipient.

Zika Virus Spread to Humans by Aedes Mosquitoes

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Zika Virus Disease Symptoms

The incubation period for Zika virus disease is three days to 2 weeks. The virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week but it can be found longer in some people.

Zika Virus Can Persist in Cerebrospinal Fluid

When the immune system has removed the last traces of Zika virus from the blood, low-level infection may continue at certain sites around the body. A study published in Cell in April 2017 reveals that the cerebrospinal fluid is one such sanctuary, which may have implications for long-term neurological health.

Most Common Symptoms of Zika Virus Disease

According to Clark County Combined Health District (CCCHD), the most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

Pain behind the eyes, muscle pain, fatigue, chills, sweating, headache and vomiting are other symptoms of this disease. Symptoms are mild and last less than a week. Many people infected with Zika virus do not display any symptoms.

Headache Is a Symptom of Zika Virus Disease

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Zika Virus Disease Complications

The rise in the spread of Zika virus in Brazil has been accompanied by an unprecedented increase in the number of children being born with unusually small heads—identified as microcephaly. Children with microcephaly are likely to suffer from defects like blindness, deafness, seizures and other congenital defects.

Many nations, including Brazil, reported a steep increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome—a neurological condition that could lead to paralysis and death. Based on a systematic review of the literature up to 30 May 2016, World Health Organization concluded that Zika virus infection during pregnancy is a cause of congenital brain abnormalities, including microcephaly; and that Zika virus is a trigger of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

In 2013, French Polynesia reported a Zika outbreak and indicated an increase in cases of Guillain Barre syndrome.

Zika infection can not only cause microcephaly, but many birth defects collectively known as congenital Zika virus syndrome.

Diagnosis

Since mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus are also vectors for viruses that cause dengue and chickengunya, the primary challenge for doctors is to ensure that the three infections are rightly diagnosed as they all display similar symptoms.

Doctors usually check your travel history and medical history. For pregnant women with Zika virus symptoms (or if they have travelled to locations with active Zika virus transmission), doctors may recommend ultrasound to detect abnormalities like microcephaly. They may also check amniotic fluid for the virus.

Trioplex rRT-PCR

This lab test was designed to detect Zika virus, dengue virus, and chikungunya virus RNA. FDA has authorized the use of this test under an Emergency Use Authorization. More information on the Trioplex rRT-PCR assay can be found on the Lab Guidance webpage.

Research scientists at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences have found a way to test for Zika virus within an hour instead of the weeks it now takes for results. They also say it is easier and cheaper.

This kit can be used to test for Zika virus in human beings and mosquitoes. A person conducting the test uses a small sample of human blood or urine, or a mosquito carcass on specially treated paper.

A sample is placed into a tube containing enzymes. After the tube is heated, the solution will turn fluorescent green if Zika virus is present. The kit can also be used to test for Chikungunya and Dengue viruses.

Results are available in 20 to 40 minutes, and the enzyme solution does not have to be refrigerated, making the kit easy to use in the field.

In order to better react to an outbreak of Zika virus, we need to have improved detection methods. We need surveillance info in real time.

— Barry Alto, faculty member at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences

Treatment

As on today there is no specific antiviral treatment for this disease, which is typically mild and disappears within a week. The goal of treatment is providing relief from symptoms. Doctors usually recommend rest and fluid intake. Oral hydration and intravenous hydration takes care of dehydration.

Doctors use medicines like acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) to treat joint pain and fever. It is not advisable to take aspirin and other NSAIDs till dengue is ruled out. This is to reduce the risk of bleeding. Many people infected with this virus do not need treatment at all. Also once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

CDC recommends that people see a healthcare provider if they display symptoms within two weeks of possible exposure to Zika virus, especially if they have travelled to a region where the virus is active or have had sexual contact with someone who has traveled.

Tylenol and Advil are Used to Treat Zika Virus Disease

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Prevention

As on today there is no Zika virus vaccine. However, preclinical results of research studies conducted by scientists at City College of New York and TechnoVax, Inc. in animal models show favorable outcomes in developing a vaccine against Zika virus.

The results were announced by Tarrytown, New York-based TechnoVax, a biotechnology developer of novel vaccines whose proprietary virus-like particle (VLP) is the center of the research.

It is very important to take necessary steps to prevent the disease because the risk of birth defects (including microcephaly) linked with the virus is just too high to ignore. Zika virus is also linked to Guillain Barre Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder.

One effective way to prevent the disease is to avoid mosquito bites. You need to take simple but critically important steps to prevent the spread of the mosquitoes that may carry the Zika virus.

To prevent mosquito bites, wear long, loose fitting, light cloths. Avoud locations infested with mosquitoes, especially early and late in the day, and at night in well-lit areas. Install, inspect, and repair widow screens and door screens in homes and stables.

Use natural mosquito repellents like lemon eucalyptus oil, cinnamon oil, soybean oil, neem oil, geraniol, lavender, thyme oil, Greek catnip oil, citronella and tea tree oil.

Make Your Own Natural Mosquito Repellent

Place mosquito repellent plants like basil, marigold, catnip, citronella, lemon balm and lavender in and around your house. Survey your properties and your communities and eliminate or treat mosquito breeding sites. The Aedes aegypti mosquito is resistant to pesticide spraying.

Aedes mosquitoes breed in containers of standing water, rather than marshlands. Items like lawn furniture, corrugated drain pipes, flower pots, children’s toys and similar common household items can become mosquito breeding grounds if you do not take appropriate steps. Drain or destroy things where water can pool. Keep things upside down wherever possible.

In April 2017, authorities in Florida set free 20,000 male Aedes aeqgypti mosquitoes, after company in Kentucky manually injected each one with Wolbachia bacteria. When the infected male mosquitoes mate with females, the eggs they produce will not hatch.

Avoid sexual intercourse with strangers. Check travel recommendations. Keep your immune system strong. If you are pregnant, avoid traveling to locations where Zika transmission is occurring.

Zika virus has made a worldwide media splash in the last few years following reports out of Brazil that it was linked to a spike in babies born with severe brain damage called microcephaly. Though media attention has diminished, Zika still poses a threat to many countries, including the United States. There is no cure for Zika, but with the start of the mosquito season, being informed and taking precautions can help people avoid this potentially devastating viral infection.

— Jean K. Lim, PhD, Assistant Professor of Microbiology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

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5 Foods That Increase Immunity

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Coconut
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Green tea
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Blueberries
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Basil
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Garlic

Summary

  • One in five people infected with Zika virus become ill.
  • Zika virus was first isolated in Uganda.
  • The disease is caused by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.
  • Symptoms last less than a week.
  • There is no specific antiviral treatment for Zika virus disease.

The rapidly evolving outbreak of Zika warns us that an old disease that slumbered for 6 decades in Africa and Asia can suddenly wake up on a new continent to cause a global health emergency.

— Dr. Margaret Chan

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