What is it?
A virus transmitted by the Aedes mosquito.
Why is it in the news?
It is currently spreading rapidly through Central and South America. It is likely that it will continue to do so throughout areas with this particular mosquito (Africa, South and South East Asia, South and Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific).
Although most people have few if any symptoms, researchers think it may cause microcephaly, a fetal defect where the head is abnormally small.The WHO have declared it a “public health emergency of international concern”
So should everyone avoid the affected areas if they can?
Certainly pregnant women and those intending to become pregnant. Those suffering from severe, chronic medical condition, or with weakened immune systems.Affected areas are updated on http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html
Supposing travel is unavoidable? And how can inhabitants protect themselves?
– wear clothing that covers as much of their body as possible.
– use a good mosquito repellent day and night, particularly during mid-morning and late afternoon/dusk. Repellents that contain DEET, picardin and IR3535 are all safe in pregnant women.
-apply repellent after any sunscreen.
-sleep in a screened or air conditioned room, or under a mosquito net.
The Brazilian Health ministry has suggested women in affected areas avoid pregnancy at the moment.
What’s the chance of catching the virus in the UK?
The Aedes mosquito does not currently survive the UK climate. However Zika cases have occurred in people travelling from affected areas.
I’ve heard it can be sexually transmitted.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that it can, although there is no conclusive proof. The risk is considered very low, but men returning from an affected area are advised to use a condom for 28 days. Men who have been affected or have had an unexplained rash or fever should use a condom for 6 months.
Although ZIKA virus can be founds in saliva, it is in such small amounts that the risk of catching it through kissing is considered extremely low.
What are the symptoms?
They are usually mild: fever, rash, itching, joint pain, headache, muscle pain, eye pain, conjunctvitis.
Is there a test?
Yes, if the women are currently experiencing symptoms. This involves blood and urine samples being sent to the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory.
With or without symptoms, women who’ve been at risk, should have a fetal ultrasound to measure the head. This can be repeated monthly. If testing for the virus is positive or equivocal, or there is evidence of microcephaly, the woman should be referred to a specialist fetal medicine unit.
References and further reading: