Zika Virus in News

IAS Prelims 2023

Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Sh J P Nadda held a high level meeting comprising senior officials from the Health Ministry and AIIMS to take stock of the situation in view of the recent cases of Zika Virus being reported from some countries.

The Health Minister directed to constitute a technical group with immediate effect which would monitor the situation arising out of spread of Zika Virus in other countries and will advise further on all the necessary steps that need to be taken.

Aedes mosquito which transmits dengue also transmits Zika virus. The Health Minister emphasised that there should be an increased focus on prevention to control the spread of the Aedes mosquito that breeds in clean water.

Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.

In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil.

The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.

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.

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.

What measures should be taken to prevent Zika virus infection?

Prevention involves reducing mosquito populations and avoiding bites, which occur mainly during the day. Eliminating and controlling Aedes aegypti mosquito breeding sites reduces the chances that Zika, chikungunya, and dengue will be transmitted. An integrated response is required, involving action in several areas, including health, education, and the environment.

To eliminate and control the mosquito, it is recommended to:

  • Avoid allowing standing water in outdoor containers (flower pots, bottles, and containers that collect water) so that they do not become mosquito breeding sites.
  • Cover domestic water tanks so that mosquitoes cannot get in.
  • Avoid accumulating garbage: Put it in closed plastic bags and keep it in closed containers.
  • Unblock drains that could accumulate standing water.
  • Use screens and mosquito nets in windows and doors to reduce contact between mosquitoes and people.

To prevent mosquito bites, it is recommended that people who live in areas where there are cases of the disease, as well as travelers and, especially, pregnant women should:

  • Cover exposed skin with long-sleeved shirts, trousers, and hats
  • Use repellents recommended by the health authorities (and apply them as indicated on the label)
  • Sleep under mosquito nets.
  • People with symptoms of Zika, dengue, or chikungunya should visit a health center.