The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency. The infection has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains.
Some areas have declared a state of emergency, doctors have described it as “a pandemic in progress” and some are even advising women in affected countries to delay getting pregnant.
Indian Medical Association has also issued Zika Alert in India.
Zika virus was first identified in monkeys in Uganda in 1947. The first human case was detected in Nigeria in 1954 and there have been further outbreaks in Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific Islands.
It is spread by Aedes mosquitoes. They are the same insects that spread dengue and chikungunya virus.
Deaths are rare and only one-in-five people infected is thought to develop symptoms. These include:
- mild fever
- conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes)
- joint pain
- a rash
A rare nervous system disorder, Guillain-Barré syndrome, that can cause temporary paralysis has been linked to the infection.
There is no vaccine or drug treatment so patients are advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids.
But the biggest concern is the impact it could have on babies developing in the womb and the surge in microcephaly. It is when a baby is born with an abnormally small head, as their brain has not developed properly.
70 countries and territories have reported evidence of mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission since 2007 (67 with reports from 2015). 53 with a first reported outbreak from 2015 onward.
Since February 2016, 11 countries have reported evidence of person-to-person transmission of Zika virus.