Tuesday February 9, 2016
Recently recognised as a “public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organisation, we have developed the following FAQ guide on Zika Virus.
What is Zika Virus?
Zika is a mosquito-borne infection that has hit the headlines for much of this year. It can be harmful for pregnancies ashealth experts have idetified that there is a link between microcephaly in babies and the Zika Virus. Microcephaly causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads.
Where did Zika come from?
The virus was first identified in April 1947 from tests on a monkey in Uganda’s Zika forest. The first documented case of human infection occurred in 1954, however it did not cause significant outbreaks in humans until 2013-2014 in the French Polynesia.
Where can the virus be found now?
Since 2015, incidences of the virus have been reported in several Caribbean islands and it has spread to the Americas, including across South America, Central America, Thailand and Indonesia. These countries have been noted as high risk areas. Zika virus is also present in Southern USA and other parts of South East Asia.
For the latest information on countries affected by Zika Virus see the ECDC’s List.
How is Zika Virus spread?
It is spread primarallly by the saliva of female Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, which also carry other serious mosquito-borne diseases including Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever and Chikungunya.
The Aedes Albopictus mosquito (also known as the Asian Tiger mosquito) is also a possible carrier of the virus. Infected female mosquitoes spread the disease from person to person, through their bites.
The risk of direct transmission between people is thought to be rarer but has not been fully dismissed. Sexual transmission has been indentified in a small number of cases, and the virus has been found in semen. It is also believed that the virus could be transmitted by blood transfusion, if the person giving blood has Zika. This could be a huge threat as often the carrier is unaware if they have contracted the virus and so, they could ultimatlely infect another peson without even knowing. Rigorous investigations are currently being carried out to confirm this.
What are the symptoms?
It is believed that around 80% of people have no symptoms when they contract the disease. Only one in five of those affected do develop symptoms. Usually this includes a mild flu-like illness lasting 4-7 days and may include a headache, fever, rash, joint or muscle pain, and conjuctivitis (red eyes).
In addition a rare nervous system disorder, known as Guillaain-Barre syndrome that causes temporary paralysis has been linked to the infection.
If pregnant women contract the virus, it may be passed on to the unborn child via the placenta, which may lead to an increased risk of giving birth to babies with serious birth defects and microcephaly (an abnormally small head size and abnormal brain development).
The incubation period for the virus is thought to be between 2-12 days.
Is there a vaccine or specific treatment available?
No, there is there is no vaccine and no specific treatment for Zika Virus. Current Zika advice from the NHS advises keeping well hydrated and taking paracetamol to relieve symptoms.
If you feel unwell on return from travelling to a country where Zika Virus is present, you should seek immediate medical advice from a doctor or other healthcare professional.
As there is no vaccine for the virus, it is essential that everyone takes precautions against mosquito bites.
Is there a test for the Zika Virus?
The Zika Virus can be diagnosed with a molecular blood test in people showing symptoms of the infection, but this can only be done soon after developing symptoms. There is no test available for people who do not show symptoms or if the symptoms were more than 3 weeks ago.
Is it safe to travel to areas affected by Zika Virus?
Pregnant women and those who are planning to become pregnant are being advised to avoid all travel to Zika affected areas. If travel is absolutely necessary precautions to avoid mosquito bites must be taken, including wearing a mosquito repellent, long-sleeved clothing and using a mosquito net.
In addition, there are many other mosquito-borne diseases transmitted by the same mosquito which can cause serious health risks for everyone, including Malaria, Dengue Fever and Yellow Fever. Use the Your Trip Planner to get advice and protection products for your destination before travel.
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid travelling to at risk areas
- Seek advice from a medical professional prior to travel
- Use a powerful, high-strength DEET mosquito repellent such as Trek Ultra (30% micro-encapsulated DEET) or Trek 50 (50% DEET)
- DEET repellents of up to 50% are suitable for use in pregnancy, however if you wish to use a DEET-Free alternative, Trek Sensitive (20% micro-encapsulated Saltidin®) is the best to use
- Cover up exposed skin with long-sleeved and loose fitting clothing
- Wear light coloured clothing. Mosquitoes are more attracted to dark clothing
- Keep windows and doors closed
- Use a treated mosquito net at night
- Avoid areas of stagnant water, pools or lakes, which can be breeding grounds for insects
- Use a fabric spray on backpacks, tents and outdoor kit
What should I do on return from a Zika area?
Pregnant women who have visited an affected area should arrange an antenatal check promptly on return home, even if they feel well.
Anyone who experiences symptoms on return from a Zika area should seeek medical attention promptly.
How soon after being exposed or potentially exposed to Zika is it safe to become pregnant?
Scientists and medical professionals do not know the answer to this question at this point in time. Current NHS advice recommends waiting for at least 28 days after returning home from an affected country before trying to conceive.
How much is known about the long-term threat of the virus?
The long-term threat and diagnosis for people and babies affected by Zika Virus is uncertain. Significant scientific research into the virus only began about 8 moths ago. Health Officials have also warned that microcephaly in babies is only the beginning. They expect to discover more health defects in babies and other health issues later on in adulthood, that result from people contracting the virus.
Ultimately the mosquitoes that carry Zika virus can breed and spread thoughout tropical regions, and at present there has been no way of completely eliminating these insects from all countries. Therefore so long as the Aedes species of mosquito is around, the virus can continue to spread. The WHO have also stated that approximately 3 to 4 million people across the Americas will become infecred with the Zika Virus by the end of 2016.
For further information:
View this Zika Virus Protection Infographic for a quick summary
NHS, http://www.nhs.uk/news/2016/01January/Pages/Zika-virus-your-questions-answered.aspx, 2016.
Fit for Travel, http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/advice/disease-prevention-advice/zika-virus-infection.aspx, 2016.
Hospital for Tropical Diseases, http://www.thehtd.org/Zika%20virus%20outbreak%20in%20South%20America%20030216.pdf, Dr Anna Checkley, University College London Hospitals, 2016.
BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-35370848; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-35493892; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-35427491, 2016.
FT.com, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1ffe732c-c37e-11e5-b3b1-7b2481276e45.html#axzz3zfUl0iuP, 2016.