The Zika virus is a flavivirus transmitted from mosquitoes and is majorly found in the world’s tropical and subtropical areas. The virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in monkeys and was later discovered in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.
Zika virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito, the same species of mosquitoes that transmit the dengue and chikungunya viruses.
The Aedes are most active during the day, unlike most malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Prevention methods such as mosquito nets are less effective. These mosquitoes can survive in both indoor and outdoor environments.
Several Aedes species can transmit the virus – the main ones being Aedes albopictus or Asian tiger mosquito, and the Aedes aegypti, also known as the yellow fever mosquito.
Outbreaks of the virus have been recorded in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Most people who have the Zika virus do not usually show signs and symptoms. Some people experience muscle pain, rash, and mild fever.
The Zika virus may cause serious brain or nervous system complications, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome in rare cases. Even people who never show symptoms of infection can be affected.
Women who are infected with the virus while pregnant have an increased risk of miscarriage. The infection also increases the risk of severe congenital disabilities in infants during pregnancy, including a potentially fatal brain condition called microcephaly.
There is no known cure for the Zika virus. Scientists are working on a vaccine for the virus. The best way to prevent an infection is to avoid mosquito bites and reduce mosquito habitats.
Causes and Risk Factors of Zika Virus
The Zika virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. The mosquito species known to carry the virus are Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito) and the Aedes aegypti, also known as the yellow fever mosquito. They can be found all over the world.
A mosquito can be infected with the virus if it bites an infected person. The newly infected mosquito then bites another person, which causes an infection.
Risk factor for Zika virus include:
- Living or traveling in at-risk countries: Living in countries where there have been outbreaks can increase your chances of being infected with the Zika virus. Regions of the world where the virus has been identified include Central and South America, the Caribbean, Oceania, North America, and Asia.
- Unprotected sex: The Zika virus can be spread from person to person through sex. Having unprotected sex can increase one’s risk of Zika virus infection for up to three months after travel. For this reason, it is recommended that pregnant women are advised to abstain from sexual activity or use condoms when having sex with partners who recently lived in or traveled to an area where the Zika virus is prevalent.
Women infected with the virus while pregnant have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, and stillbirth. Zika virus infection during pregnancy can also increase the risk of severe birth defects in infants, a condition known as congenital Zika syndrome.
These defects include:
- Brain damage and reduced brain tissue
- A much smaller than the normal brain and head size (microcephaly), with a partly collapsed skull
- Joint problems, including limited motion
- Eye damage
- Reduced body movement due to too much muscle tone after birth
An infection with may cause brain or nervous system complications, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, even in people who never show symptoms of the disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Zika Virus
About 4 out of 5 people infected with the virus can be asymptomatic (show no symptoms). When symptoms occur, they usually begin 2 to 14 days after an infected mosquito bite a person. Symptoms typically last about a week, and most people recover fully.
Symptoms of the Zika virus include:
- Mild fever
- Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
- Joint pain, especially in the hands or feet
- Abdominal pain
- Fatigue or a general feeling of discomfort
- Eye pain
- Muscle pain
The doctor will inquire about the patient’s medical and travel history. If the doctor suspects a Zika virus infection, they may recommend a blood or urine test to confirm the diagnosis. The samples can also be used to test for other mosquito-borne disease.
If you are pregnant and don’t have symptoms of the infection, but you or your partner recently traveled to an area with active Zika virus transmission, ask your doctor if you need to be tested.
If you are pregnant and at risk of Zika virus infection, the doctor may also recommend one of the following procedures:
- Amniocentesis, which involves inserting a hollow needle into the uterus to remove a sample of amniotic fluid to be tested for the Zika virus
- An ultrasound to look for fetal brain issues
Zika virus infection has no specific treatment. Treatment options include getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Over-the-counter (OTC) medication such as Tylenol may help relieve joint pain and fever.