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The Zika virus must be prevented at all cost

Oct 28, 2016, 9:52 AM

It has been reported that “currently, over 65 countries and territories” around the world are “battling transmission of the Zika virus”.

The Zika virus, said to have recently reached Africa, risks spreading to many more countries in Africa and Asia from other parts of the world, such as Latin and South America.

Our Health Ministry on Wednesday briefed journalists about the Zika virus, with the health communication officer describing it as a disease of public health importance, although the virus is not present in The Gambia.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization declared the virus —mainly spread by the bite of the Aedes mosquito and sometimes sexual transmission — an international health emergency.

We in The Gambia should, therefore, be vigilant and continue our watertight healthy security and safety measures to prevent the occurrence of any such diseases. 

Our biweekly cleansing exercise must also be seen to be conducted properly to keep our environment always clean and free from harmful  insects, as well as pathogens, which may cause us serious health hazard.

International health agencies authorities, such as the World Health Organisation, have stated that the viral infections of Zika typically occur in tropical climates, and at present, there is no treatment or cure for the virus.

The following therefore are some aspects of the diseases as put out by the WHO and the Pan-American Health organization about the Zika virus.

What is Zika virus infection?

Zika virus infection is caused by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, usually causing mild fever, rash, conjunctivitis, and muscle pain. 

The virus was isolated for the first time in 1947 in the Zika forest in Uganda. Since then, it has remained mainly in Africa, with small and sporadic outbreaks in Asia. In 2007, a major epidemic was reported on the island of Yap (Micronesia), where nearly 75% of the population was infected.

On 3 March 2014, Chile notified PAHO/WHO that it had confirmed a case of indigenous transmission of Zika virus on Easter Island, where the virus continued to be detected until June 2014.

In May 2015, the public health authorities of Brazil confirmed the transmission of Zika virus in the northeast of the country. Since October 2015, other countries and territories of the Americas have reported the presence of the virus. See updated list at: www.paho.org/zikavirus.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of Zika virus infection are mild fever and exanthema (skin rash), usually accompanied by conjunctivitis, muscle or joint pain, and general malaise that begins 2-7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito.

One out of four infected people develops symptoms of the disease. Among those who do, the disease is usually mild and can last 2-7 days. Symptoms are similar to those of dengue or chikungunya, which are transmitted by the same type of mosquito. Neurological and autoimmune complications are infrequent, but have been described in the outbreaks in Polynesia and, more recently, in Brazil. As the virus spreads in the Americas, giving us more experience with its symptoms and complications, it will be possible to characterize the disease better.

How is Zika virus transmitted?

Zika virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This is the same mosquito that transmits dengue and chikungunya.

Can it be transmitted through blood or sexual contact?

In general, the Zika virus needs a vector (a means of transportation) to infect people. That vector is the mosquito. The virus has also been isolated in semen, and one case of possible person-to-person sexual transmission has been described, but not confirmed.

Zika can be transmitted through blood, but this is an infrequent mechanism. The usual recommendations for safe transfusions should be followed (e.g., healthy volunteer donors). 

Can it be transmitted from mother to child?

There is little information on transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy or childbirth. Perinatal transmission has been reported with other vector-borne viruses, such as dengue and chikungunya. Studies are now being conducted on possible mother-to-child transmission of the virus and its possible effects on the baby.

“Zika is transmitted in a manner very similar to that of Malaria transmission; through mosquito bites,".

Stephen Nelson