Since October 2015, 69 countries have reported evidences of local transmission of the Zika virus.
Zika has been recognised as a sexually transmitted disease worldwide. In fact, public-health officials are calling Zika a global emergency. In Brazil, hundreds of babies born to Zika-infected mothers have suffered severe birth defects since 2016. Although the spread of the virus is primarily limited to South America (currently), India has also been listed as a risk-prone region.
Love Matters addresses some common perceptions about the disease. Read on to know more:
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Zika is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by female Aedes mosquitoes. The virus can also be sexually transmitted. However, there has been no proof (as of yet) of the disease spreading through other means.
Whilst the larvae of the mosquito do hatch in stagnant water, you cannot get Zika if you ingest water infested with mosquito larvae. Other forms of transmission, especially through blood, are currently being investigated.
Zika (or the microcephaly associated with it) is not caused by genetically modified mosquitoes. Only female mosquitos bite humans. On the other hand, genetically modified mosquitoes that have been released so far have all been male ones. Hence, there is no fear of the virus being transmitted by genetically modified male mosquitoes.
In fact, the genes of male mosquitos are designed to wipe out Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the region and prevent the transmission of the Zika virus. The WHO encourages affected countries to boost the use of current mosquito control interventions.
Many people infected with Zika virus don’t experience from any symptoms, or suffer from mild ones, at most. The symptoms of Zika may be common to those of dengue, including mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise and headache. These symptoms normally last for two to seven days.
Zika requires no particular treatment. The infected person should rest, drink a lot of fluids, and treat pain and fever with medicines. If the case is an extreme one, one should seek medical help.
Mosquitoes and their breeding sites pose major threats. Reducing or removing breeding sites, using mosquito repellents, practising safe-sex using condoms and spraying insecticides authorised by the WHO can help in preventing Zika.
Travellers should be extremely careful while travelling to countries affected by Zika and take necessary precautions. A pregnant mother should take extra steps to avoid mosquito bites, as Zika can affect her pregnancy, leading to miscarriage or birth defects.
However, chances of this are comparatively rare, according to the WHO. Birth defects are common if Zika affects a woman in her first trimester.
Even though Zika is a sexually transmitted disease, there is no evidence that kissing can spread Zika.
However, research suggests that the Zika virus stays in semen longer than in other body fluids such as vaginal fluids, urine, and blood. This means that the chances of catching Zika virus are more in vaginal, anal and oral sex. People using sex toys are also at risk.
As of 2016, only 12 countries have reported cases of non-mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission, thereby suggesting that sexual transmission is not the primary means of transmitting this disease.
However, the disease can spread from male to male, female to female, and between males and females.
Here are some steps listed in the American Journal of Public Health that can be taken by public health institutes to prevent the Zika virus epidemic:
1. Vector control to limit the spread of Zika via mosquitoes
2. Sexual and reproductive health interventions
3. Generating knowledge and technology including diagnostic tests and a vaccine
4. Health system preparedness to address the longitudinal needs of families affected by Zika