By the end of February 2017, nearly a year after the very first cases of the Zika virus were discovered in Vietnam, there had been a total of 233 reported cases. According to local media, the majority (around 207 in total) were in Ho Chi Minh City. Experts warned that the number of Zika-infected cases across the region would likely increase. Due to the nature of the disease, it continues to spread widely. It is therefore very important to be aware of the Zika virus and check with your doctor, especially if you are pregnant.
The Zika virus is a disease spread by mosquitoes. The virus was first identified in Ugandan monkeys in 1947 through a network that was monitoring yellow fever. It was later identified in humans in 1952 in both Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Since then, outbreaks of the Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
Signs and Symptoms
The incubation period (the time from exposure to experiencing symptoms) of the Zika virus is not clear, but it is likely to be a few days. The symptoms are similar to other arbovirus infections such as dengue—and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache. These symptoms are usually mild and last for two to seven days. Agencies investigating outbreaks are finding an increasing body of evidence about the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly. Zika infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects (microcephaly).
The Zika virus is primarily transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito from the Aedes genus—mainly Aedes aegypti, which spreads in tropical regions. Aedes mosquitoes usually bite during the day, peaking during the early morning and late afternoon/evening. This is the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Zika also can spread through sex with a man or woman who has Zika.
A diagnosis of Zika virus infection can only be confirmed through laboratory tests on blood or other body fluids, such as urine, saliva or semen.
Zika virus disease is usually mild and requires no specific treatment. People sick from Zika should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, they should seek medical care and advice, especially women of childbearing age. No vaccine is currently available.
Any traveler to areas where the disease exists is considered to be at risk. Due to the mild nature of the illness, a traveler might not even realise that they have had the disease. Experts believe that the biggest risk of this disease is for the unborn child—there is growing evidence that Zika virus can cause birth defects.
As there is no treatment, the only option is to reduce the risk of being bitten. This can be done by using insect repellents, wearing clothes (preferably light-coloured) that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as window screens or closing doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets. Special attention and help should be given to those who may not be able to protect themselves adequately, such as young children, the sick, the elderly or pregnant women. Moreover, the mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, so it is important to cover, empty or clean containers in and around houses—such as buckets, drums, pots, gutters, and used tyres.
Information provided by Family Medical Practice