Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Zika virus now in 14 countries – Puerto Rico reports first case

Published:Wednesday | January 6, 2016 | 1:00 AM

As of the recent update, the Zika virus (ZIKV) is now in 14 countries - Brazil, Colombia, Chile (Eastern Island), El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.

On the weekend, health officials in Puerto Rico reported the island's first case of ZIKV, a mosquito-borne virus recently linked to the rise of a serious neurological disorder among newborns in Brazil.

"There is no reason for alarm, and the public should continue to take commonsense steps to avoid mosquito bites," Puerto Rican Congressman Pedro Pierluisi said in a statement.

He added that he expects experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to visit the island early this month to educate local physicians to "properly diagnose and treat the virus".

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the disease, thrives in tropical climates and typically lives around buildings in urban areas. It is known to bite aggressively during the day, but can also attack at night, both indoors and outdoors. It's the same mosquito that can carry yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya.

NO MEDICINE TO TREAT

There is no vaccine to prevent ZIKV, and once infected there is no medicine to treat the virus. Symptoms typically include fever, rash, joint pain, and the red eyes of conjunctivitis. They're usually mild, and can last up to a week. Other symptoms can include muscle pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and vomiting. Symptoms typically begin three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

In Brazil, ZIKV is linked to a rise in microcephaly, a neurological disorder that can result in incomplete brain development in newborns. Zika first appeared in Brazil in early 2015. More than 2,400 suspected cases of microcephaly were reported last year in 20 Brazilian states, compared with 147 cases in 2014. Doctors soon discovered that most of the affected mothers reported having Zika-like symptoms during early pregnancy mild fever, rash and headaches.

Microcephaly results in babies being born with abnormally small heads that often cause serious developmental issues and sometimes early death. In Brazil, doctors are investigating 29 related infant deaths after an autopsy on November 28 found the Zika virus in a baby born with microcephaly, establishing a link between the two.

"This is an unprecedented situation, unprecedented in world scientific research," Brazil's Health Ministry said on its website.

Brazilian officials have encouraged women to postpone pregnancies if at all possible. Six Brazilian states have declared a state of emergency; in Brazil's hardest-hit state, Pernambuco, more than 900 cases of microcephaly have been reported. Research continues to determine whether Zika actually causes microcephaly and further establish an association.

"These are newborns who will require special attention their entire lives. It's an emotional stress that just can't be imagined," said Angela Rocha, the paediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital in Pernambuco.

Zika fever was first discovered in Uganda in the 1940s and has since become endemic in parts of Africa. It also spread to the South Pacific and areas of Asia, and most recently to Latin America. Because of global travel, health experts warn the virus could appear anywhere in the world.

Zika is transmitted when a mosquito bites an infected person, and then spreads the obtained virus by biting others. The Zika virus could be spread through blood transfusion, and there is one case of possible virus transmission via sexual contact.

Persons are strongly advised to reduced mosquito breeding by vigilantly checking their surroundings and cleaning up any potential breeding sites. Persons are also advised to protect themselves by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants that are not thin enough to bite through, use screen and door protectors, and using approved insect repellents.