It’s the talk of the
town world, and not for the best of reasons.
The Zika virus is now active in more than 20 countries, prompting worldwide concern and travel warnings targeting pregnant women. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the mosquito-borne Zika virus may infect up to 4 million people, and the agency is deciding if the outbreak should be declared an international health emergency.
WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan said in a statement on Thursday (28th January) that the level of alarm was “extremely high”. “Last year, the virus was detected in the Americas, where it is now spreading explosively. As of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region,” Dr Chan said.
What is the Zika virus? What can/does it do to a person? Here are some things you need to know:
- The Zika virus is a relatively new mosquito-borne virus transmitted by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito. It was discovered in Zika Forest in Uganda almost 70 years ago, but wasn’t associated with outbreaks until 2007.
- Most people who get infected with the Zika virus will have either mild or no symptoms at all. If symptoms arise, they can include joint pain, redness of the eyes, and fever.
- There is no specific treatment or vaccine for Zika, which is related to Dengue. Scientists have struggled for years to develop a Dengue vaccine but have failed to create a viable shot so far.
But here’s an alarming reason for caution: what seems to be happening in affected pregnant women, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy, is that the virus has been shown to pass through amniotic fluid and interfere with how the fetus’ brain is developing.
Thus, resulting in babies suffering from microcephaly, a disorder in which the brain and skull don’t develop as well and are too small.
Dr. Chan explained, “Arrival of the virus in some places has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome.”
There are currently 22 countries that have reported incidences of the Zika virus, mainly located in South America and even in some developed nations like the United States. Brazil is getting a lot of attention because the country has seen a significant increase in microcephaly. In Brazil, there were 4,200 cases in just a few months, and 51 children have died.
Brazil sounds like a far away place but mind you, Malaysia is not spared from the spread of the Zika virus. According to The Star Online, the Malaysian Health Ministry has cautioned that Malaysia is vulnerable to the Zika virus too.
Deputy Health Director-General Datuk Dr Lokman Halim Sulaiman said in a statement on Friday (29th January) that the Ministry was monitoring the spread of the virus and believed that the disease could spread to Malaysia because of the high presence of Aedes mosquitoes in the country.
Dr Lokman added that the risks brought by the disease were also high as Malaysians had yet to develop an immunity to the virus, making it likely that the disease could spread very quickly among Malaysians.
As such, he has urged all visitors – especially those from South and Central America and Malaysians returning from infected areas – who exhibit fever and spots to report themselves to the Quarantine Health Centre or the nearest Health Department as soon as they arrive in Malaysia.
He also advised pregnant women to refrain from visiting infected countries and said that a health alert would be issued to all Government and private health facilities.