Your Health Your Wealth – Zika Virus

WHAT IS IT?

Zika virus was first isolated in 1947, in a rhesus monkey at Uganda’s Zika Forest. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the symptoms are usually mild and normally last two to seven days. Symptoms are similar to dengue and chikungunya viruses which are transmitted by mosquitoes and include a mild fever, skin rash, aches and pains, headache, and conjunctivitis. About one in five people infected with the virus become ill. Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus, closely related to DENGUE. It’s of particular concern for pregnant women as there is a possibility that it may cause microcephaly (small/underdeveloped brain) in unborn babies.

HOW IS IT SPREAD?

The Zika virus can be spread by mosquito. Global health experts are also investigating whether the virus can be transmitted sexually.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS INVOLVED?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. So far there are two confirmed cases in Sydney. The WHO is deeply worried about the situation for four main reasons:

1. Zika may be linked to birth malformations and neurological syndromes

2. The potential for it to spread further internationally given the wide geographical distribution of the mosquitoes that carry it

3. The lack of immunity in newly affected areas.

4. The absence of vaccines, specific treatments and rapid diagnostic tests.

WHAT IS THE TREATMENT?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent infection, and there is no medical treatment for the disease. The WHO’s prevention advice is to remove mosquito breeding sites and reduce contact between mosquitoes and people by using insect repellent, wearing clothes (preferably light-coloured) that cover as much of the body as possible, using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows, and sleeping under mosquito nets.

It is also important to empty, clean or cover containers that can hold water such as buckets, flower pots or tyres, so that places where mosquitoes can breed are removed. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says using an insect repellent is safe and effective for pregnant or breastfeeding women.