On July 10, 2017, 28-year-old Meena was rattled to read the front page of the morning newspaper. The title of the lead story was ‘Tamil Nadu reports first case of Zika’. Meena had heard her friends talk about it being ‘deadlier than dengue and swine flu’ and this piece of news disturbed her. For the many panic-stricken ‘Meenas’ out there who are looking for information on this WHO-declared global health emergency, this article is an eye-opener.
Tamil Nadu reported its first case when a 27-year-old man was diagnosed with the virus on 1 July 2017. Director of Public Health, Dr K. Kolandaisamy says that approximately 200 cases have been tested at the King Institute, Chennai so far. The Government of Tamil Nadu has put in place surveillance measures to stop its spread in the state. Read on to understand what causes the disease, the risk factors associated with it and measures to prevent its spread.
Zika is caused by the bite of the Aedes mosquito, which is also responsible for dengue, Chikungunya and yellow fever. While dengue and yellow fever are life-threatening diseases, hardly any deaths have occurred from Chikungunya or Zika, says Dr Kolandaisamy. A mosquito that bites a person infected with Zika becomes infected. This mosquito then spreads the virus by biting more people. Zika can also be transmitted from a mother to her foetus, through blood transfusion and sex.
Most people infected with the virus exhibit only mild symptoms such as fever, headache, joint pain, red eyes, skin rashes and fatigue. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 1 in 5 people infected by the virus show severe symptoms. The symptoms usually last for 2-7 days.
Mortality is rare in Zika virus infections, says Dr Vikrant Shah, Intensivist and Infectious Disease Specialist, Zen Hospitals, Mumbai. “Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause congenital brain abnormalities, including microcephaly. This is a condition where the baby’s head is smaller than expected. There is no specific treatment for microcephaly. Zika is also a trigger of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder, which causes weakening of the nervous system, and temporary ascending paralysis sets in starting from the lower limbs. In rare cases, this syndrome can lead to death,” says Dr Vikrant. Both these conditions make Zika a potentially dangerous disease.
The silver lining to the dark ‘Zika’ cloud is that a person is protected from future infections if he has been infected with Zika once.
The National Health Portal states that the Zika virus disease is diagnosed by performing the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test on blood, urine, saliva or semen samples. Patients are screened based on their travel history (visiting or returning from an area where the virus is active) and symptoms. Be sure to collect your Zika test results even if you feel better in a couple of days.
In Tamil Nadu, diagnostic tests for the virus are carried out at The King Institute of Preventive Medicine, Chennai, which has acquired testing kits for the purpose, says Dr Kolandaisamy. For information on other laboratories across India conducting Zika diagnostic tests, click here.
Zika virus disease is usually mild. No specific treatment is required. Get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and get relief from pain and fever with common medicines like paracetamol. Do not take painkillers like aspirin until dengue is ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding. If symptoms persist or worsen, seek advice from a medical practitioner. No vaccine or medicine is available for Zika currently. The disease, like all other viral infections, subsides on its own and the patient gets better in a week.
Dr Vikrant advises small, frequent meals for adequate nourishment and quick healing. Drink plenty of water, juice or any oral rehydration solution to prevent dehydration. An adult weighing 50 kg must drink at least 2 ½ litres of fluids per day.
1. Protect yourself against mosquitoes.
a) Breeding sites for the Aedes mosquito include water accumulated in coconut shells, unused tyres, plant containers, puddles, air coolers and uncovered water tanks. Ensure they are emptied from time to time. The government of Tamil Nadu is taking adequate precautionary measures such as fogging to control mosquito breeding. Yet, this is not the real solution. It is the responsibility of every individual to do his bit to eradicate mosquitoes and prevent Zika, says Dr Kolandaisamy.
b) Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
c) Do not use mosquito repellents on children younger than 2 months old; use mosquito netting instead.
d) Use natural ways to combat mosquitoes. The smell of garlic repels mosquitoes; so do essential oils of lemongrass, lemon eucalyptus and citronella.
2. The National Health Portal advises pregnant women against travelling to places affected by the Zika virus to avoid exposure to risk.
3. Travellers must take necessary precautions when they visit or return from a country where the disease is prevalent. If you develop a fever, headache, joint pain, rash or red eyes, consult your doctor immediately.
4. Couples who have been exposed to a Zika affected environment must not plan to have a baby for at least 6 months.
Must dos for caregivers
1. Protect yourself from exposure to the patient’s blood, urine, stool and vomit.
2. Wash your hands with soap and water after providing care.
3. If your clothes are soiled with blood or body fluids, remove and wash with disinfectant.
4. Clean the sick person’s room daily using disinfectant cleaners.
To sum up, in Dr Kolandaisamy’s words—do your country and mankind a service by “keeping the environment Aedes-free”.
For more information, log on to The Ministry of Health, Government of India website.
The other life-threatening disease that's reared its dirty head in the country and is the cause of many fatalities is dengue. Read this article for information on the symptoms you need to look for when you suspect your child of having dengue and ways to prevent and treat the disease.