In January this year, the Zika virus was said to be active in 20 countries around the world. At that time, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the mosquito-borne virus may infect up to 4 million people.
A month later, WHO declared the rise in birth defects linked to the Zika virus outbreak a “public health emergency”, underscoring the seriousness of the problem and paving the way for research and aid to be fast-tracked to tackle the infection.
What is the Zika virus? 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.
An even more alarming reason for caution is the fact that Singapore has just confirmed its first reported case of the Zika virus. Yes, that’s pretty close to home for us Malaysians.
According to Singapore’s Ministry of Health, the government confirmed that a 48-year-old man, a permanent resident of Singapore, tested positive for the virus following a trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, from 27th March to 7th May. The man in Singapore developed a fever and rash on 10th May and was admitted to a hospital 2 days later, where he subsequently tested positive for Zika. The statement said he will be transferred to the Tan Tock Seng Hospital for treatment and isolation.
Additionally, Singaporean parliament member Sim Ann announced that the government would be conducting house visits to inspect the residential compound where the man lived.
This is the 4th time the WHO has declared a public health emergency. WHO declared 2 emergencies in 2014: the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and a resurgence of polio in Syria and other countries. The H1N1 swine flu pandemic prompted an emergency in 2009.
More information on the Zika virus here.