Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Zika: frequently asked questions

Oct 17. 2016
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By DR ON-UMAR BANPAMAI

What is the Zika virus and how is it transmitted?

 The Zika virus is a member of the flavivirus family; patients can contract the virus by getting bitten by infected mosquitoes. It is related to other flaviviruses such as yellow fever virus, dengue virus, Japanese encephalitis and West Nile virus. The first large outbreak of the disease was reported on the island of Yap in 2007. In July 2015, Brazil reported a correlation between cases of Zika virus infection and microcephaly, a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than normal. 

The Zika virus can be transmitted via the following:

  •  The bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, which breeds in water and usually bites during the day
  •  Sexual intercourse (including anal, vaginal and oral sex) with a person who is infected
  •  Blood transfusions
  •  Organ or tissue transplantation
  •  Transmission from a pregnant mother to the foetus 

There have been no reports of the Zika virus being transmitted through breastfeeding.

Am I at risk of contracting it?

You are at risk of contracting the Zika virus if you have travelled to endemic areas. Currently, these places include countries in Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa and South America. Coming into contact with a person who’s been to these places also increases your chance of contracting the virus. A detailed list of all the countries with endemic Zika can be found at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-information

What are the symptoms and warning signs?

The incubation period is between three and 12 days. Symptoms of the Zika virus include:

  •  Fever of around 37.8 to 38.5 Celsius in adults
  •  Rash
  •  Red eyes
  •  Joint pain, especially in the hands and feet
  •  Muscle pain
  •  Joint swelling
  •  Headache
  •  Fatigue
  •  Diarrhoea
  •  Swollen lymph nodes

Some patients with Zika have also suffered from the Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), leading to paralysis. Others have problems with the brain or nerve issues. However, these cases occur very rarely. People who suspect they might have contracted Zika should see a doctor immediately so the spread of the disease can be contained.

How harmful is the Zika virus?

People very rarely die of Zika. Most people infected will only experience mild symptom lasting for two to seven days. However, it can cause major problems in infants who are infected before birth, leading to brain defects, hearing deficits, defects of the eye and impaired growth. Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) has also been detected in endemic areas.

How is Zika virus prevented?

Although there is no prophylaxis medication or vaccine for prevention of Zika, you can protect yourself by following these measures:

  •  Avoid travelling to endemic areas, especially if you are pregnant.
  •  Protect yourself from mosquito bites by wearing long trousers and long sleeves and using insect repellent. If you are pregnant, make sure that the repellent is safe for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. Do not use repellent on babies, but use mosquito nets instead. Stay in rooms with air conditioning or screens and cover water tanks so that mosquitoes cannot enter and breed.
  •  Abstain from sexual intercourse or only engage in protected sex to prevent sexual transmission of Zika. Men who have displayed symptoms should not have sex for six months, women for at least eight weeks. Men and women with no symptoms, but who have been to endemic areas, should not have sex for eight weeks. Pregnant women who might have been exposed to the virus should only have protected sex or abstain from the act altogether during pregnancy.

How is the Zika virus detected?

If you have symptoms of the Zika virus, you should get tested. If you are a woman who’s travelled to an infected area and have experienced no symptoms, the test is still recommended. Zika infection can be diagnosed through a blood test or a urine test. For infants and children who might be infected, tests are carried out in the same way. Recent travel history, sexual history (in the case of adults) and symptoms will also be taken into account.

Pregnant women who display symptoms or have been living in endemic areas should get tested as soon as possible. Early testing, in cases of positive results, will allow for treatment plans to be made immediately. 

How is Zika virus treated?

There is no specific medication for Zika. The doctor can only provide symptomatic treatment. It is recommended that you drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. You can take Tylenol to relieve aches and pains, but do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). If you are taking medication for any other condition, let your doctor know first.

DR ON-UMAR BANPAMAI is an Internist specialising in infectious diseases at Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital. Dr Tassanee Sookpranee, is a paediatrician specialising |in infectious diseases at the same hospital. Call (02) 022 2555-6

 

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