The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the Zika virus has now spread through both South and Central America and expects 3-4 million people to be infected in 2016.
So, what exactly is the Zika virus and how can we protect ourselves from it?
• It is a mosquito-borne infection, which is not harmful in most cases
• However, it may be harmful to unborn babies and has been potentially linked to birth defects – specifically, abnormally small heads (microcephaly)
• The virus gets its name from the area is was first detected – the Zika forest of Uganda – in 1947
• According to WHO, the virus is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas with a suitable climate for the affected mosquitos, except Chile and Canada.
Symptoms of the virus include a low-grade fever, joint pain, itching, itchy rash, conjunctivitis, head ache and eye pain.
What can you do to reduce risk of infection?
• Before travelling, seek travel health advice from your GP
• Use DEET (mosquito repellent) on exposed skin and sleep under a mosquito net when possible
• Pregnant woman should postpone travel to any region where a known Zika outbreak is occurring
• If you are trying to conceive and have previously travelled to a country where there is an ongoing Zika outbreak, see your GP. They will recommend you take folic acid supplements for 28 days before trying to conceive.
The Zika virus can be diagnosed with a blood test in people who are currently/actively displaying symptoms of Zika virus infection.
There is no specific treatment for the symptoms of the Zika virus. Drinking plenty of water and taking paracetamol may help relieve symptoms. If you feel unwell on return form a country with an ongoing outbreak of Zika virus, but which also has malaria, you should seek urgent (same day) advice to help rule out a diagnosis of malaria.
If you remain unwell and malaria has been shown not to be the cause, seek medical advice.