While I’d like to think I’m omniscient and try my best to get my son and husband to think so, sadly I am not. One of the last blogs in 2015, All I Want For Christmas, talked about the WHO’s list of emerging pathogens that are likely to cause severe outbreaks in the near future, which few or no medical countermeasures exist. WHO’s prescient warning included Zika virus. I’m sure back in December I would harbour a guess that most people outside of the public health and infection prevention realm would not have known what Zika virus was. Today, based on the fact that a Google search gave about 118,000,000 hits in under 0.6 seconds, I would say that the number of people who know about Zika virus has grown exponentially.
Zika virus has been reported in Africa and parts of Asia since the 1950s, and in the southwestern Pacific in 2007. In 2015, Zika virus emerged in South America with widespread outbreaks reported in Brazil and Colombia. Since Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites, travellers to countries where Zika virus is actively circulating and to countries in tropical and subtropical regions where the virus has the potential to circulate should take precaution. Twenty to twenty-five percent of people infected with Zika virus are believed to develop symptoms. These can include low-grade fever, headache, red eyes, and rash along with joint and muscle pain. The incubation period of Zika virus ranges from 3 to 12 days. The disease symptoms are usually mild and last for 2 to 7 days. Most people recover fully with simple supportive care and without severe complications (hospitalization rates are low). Zika virus infection may go unrecognized or be misdiagnosed as dengue, chikungunya or other viral infections causing fever and rash. Treatment is generally limited to symptom relief.
In November 2015, the Ministry of Health of Brazil established a relationship between an increase in cases of microcephaly in newborns and Zika virus infections in the country’s northeast. Given reports of cases of apparent sexual transmission of Zika, pregnant women’s sex partners living in or returning from areas where local transmission of Zika virus is known to occur should practice safer sex or abstain (throughout the pregnancy).
Currently, there is no prophylaxis, vaccine or treatment for Zika virus. Prevention is limited to reducing mosquito populations, as mosquitoes and their breeding sites pose a significant risk factor for Zika virus infection. Prevention and control relies on reducing mosquitoes through source reduction (removal and modification of breeding sites) and reducing contact between mosquitoes and people. Everyone should avoid exposure to mosquito bites by wearing long sleeves and long pants, and using mosquito nets during the daytime as well as insect repellents.
Perhaps this is not the best topic leading up to March break when some of you lucky ducks will be heading off to beaches and warmth. I’m not meaning to be a fear monger, but the speed with which Zika virus went from a mild concern to a public health threat is worth sharing. If you’re leaving Saturday you still have time to run out and get some mosquito repellent, a mosquito net and put away all of your shorts and t-shirts and pack long pants and shirts!