Suspected to be responsible for birth defects, the Zika virus is spreading fast.
(Updated May 13: The first case of the Zika virus infection in Singapore was confirmed on May 13. The patient is a a 48-year-old male who had travelled to Sao Paulo in Brazil from March 27 to May 7.
The Ministry of Health is screening the patient’s household members, while the National Environment Agency has expanded Aedes mosquito control operations around the patient’s residence at Watten Estate, which is not an active dengue cluster.)
There is no concrete evidence to suggest that pregnant women are most suspectible to falling ill from the Zika virus.
But it is believed that an infected mum-to-be may pass the virus to her foetus.
There is increasing evidence of the virus being linked to microcephaly, a disorder resulting in infants born with abnormally small heads, leading to developmental issues and sometimes death.
Researchers still have a lot to learn about Zika, especially its link with birth defects.
For now, pregnant women are urged to reconsider their travel plans to countries with known outbreaks. And here are some facts you should know about it.
What is Zika?
It is a disease caused by a virus transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. It was first detected in Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947 in a rhesus monkey, and in the Aedes africanus mosquito in 1948.
Very few cases of human infection were reported before 2007, when an outbreak occurred on Yap Island in Micronesia. Brazil has borne the biggest brunt of the disease so far, with an estimated one million people infected.
What are the symptoms?
The incubation period is likely to be a few days. The symptoms are similar to other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya: fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise and headache. Symptoms are usually mild and last between two and seven days.
Why are there outbreaks now?
Deforestation, increasing urbanisation and rising temperatures have encouraged mosquitoes to breed. With the high volume of travel across countries, the virus has a greater chance of getting imported as well.
Zika is new to the Americas, so the virus can spread quickly there to a big population of susceptible hosts who have no immunity to it. Latin America is also known to have a large number of Aedes mosquitoes.
In South-east Asia, there have been a small number of cases detected in Cambodia, East Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand in recent years.
How is it harmful?
When French Polynesia experienced an outbreak in 2013, instances of Guillain-Barre syndrome linked to the viral infection were reported, as well as a spike in microcephaly, a rare condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads.
Evidence is mounting in Brazil linking the virus to microcephaly, while Colombia and Venezuela are both reporting a jump in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome – a rare disorder that causes muscle weakness and temporary paralysis.
Most people recover from it. No Zika-related deaths have been reported so far, according to the World Health Organisation.
Is there a vaccine or a drug for Zika?
No, as the disease was rare and mild up until last year.
Those infected are usually advised by doctors to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids, while pain and fever are treated with available medicines.
Scientists are currently studying how to produce vaccines, but it could take five to seven years before one is commercially available.
How can you protect yourself?
The same way you would with dengue if you’re travelling to countries affected by Zika – wear long, covered clothing and apply insect repellant.
At home, take precautions to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Empty stagnant water regularly.
– The Straits Times and The New Paper