The global health body, World Health Organisation, on Thursday announced that Zika – a mosquito borne disease – is ‘spreading explosively’. With over four million people on the verge of being affected, and WHO considering declaring it as a public health emergency, a major concern has been the rising cases of microcephaly – a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small head and damaged brain - in Brazil. While experts say it is too early to link the two, there have been steps such as one taken by the El Salvador government, which has advised women to refrain from pregnancies till 2018.
Here are six things that you need to know about the virus and its spread:
1. What is Zika Virus and how does it spread?
Zika is a mosquito- borne disease that spreads primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. There is also a possibility of Zika getting transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth.
2. How do you know if it is Zika?
The common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The sickness is usually mild with the symptoms lasting for several days to a week. Symptoms begin two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
3. Who is at risk of being affected?
People living in or travelling to an area where Zika is found, and those who haven’t been already affected with Zika, are prone to get affected. Pregnant women are at highest risk.
4. Why is it so serious?
The main reason behind Zika garnering immediate attention is its link with a neurological disorder- microcephaly. A baby born with microcephaly will have an abnormally small head that may result in several developmental disorders and even death at times.
5. Where has it spread till now?
More than 20 countries of Latin America have been affected by this since its outbreak in May 2015. It has now spread to the entire South American continent, affecting more than 50% of Brazil immensely. Governments of several countries are issuing warnings against travelling to South America.
6. How can you protect yourself from this spread?
There isn’t any vaccine or treatment available as such but as per the guidelines issued by Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) –wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, protect yourself and the family from mosquito bites, stay in places where air conditioning is on, sleep inside mosquito nets if you are outside and cannot protect yourself from mosquito bites.