The Zika virus, transmitted by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito, has now spread to at least 25 countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning pregnant women against travel to those areas; health officials in several of those countries are telling female citizens to avoid becoming pregnant, in some cases for up to two years. Here are five important things to know:
1. What is Zika and why is it so serious?
The Zika virus is a flavivirus, part of the same family as yellow fever, West Nile, chikungunya and dengue. But unlike some of those viruses, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika or medicine to treat the infection.
Zika is commanding worldwide attention because of an alarming connection between the virus and microcephaly, a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads. This causes severe developmental issues and sometimes death.
The Zika virus is now being locally transmitted in Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands ,Venezuela and the United States.
4. What can you do to protect yourself against Zika?
With no treatment or vaccine available, the only protection against Zika is to avoid travel to areas with an active infestation. If you do travel to a country where Zika is present, the CDC advises strict adherence to mosquito protection measures: Use an EPA-approved repellent over sunscreen, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts thick enough to block a mosquito bite, and sleep in air-conditioned, screened rooms, among others. If you have Zika, you can prevent spreading it to others by avoiding mosquito bites during the first week of your illness. The female Aedes aegypti, the primary carrier of Zika, is an aggressive biter, preferring daytime to dusk and indoors to outdoors. Keeping screens on windows and doors is critical to preventing entry to homes and hotel rooms. If that’s not possible, sleep under mosquito netting.
5. Can Zika spread to Africa?
At the moment Zika has spread to cape Verde. Since we live in a globalized world and the mosquito vector that spreads Zika is in Africa, Yes, this disease could spread to Africa like it has done in other parts of the world.
So far there is no immediate threat to the African continent but this will only be so as long as the spread is curtailed in other parts of the globe. Lets hope this will be the case as we are not prepared for another disease outbreak on the continent.