Zika virus cases have been on rise in Maharashtra. So far, at least 7 cases of the mosquito-borne illness have been found in the state, the latest being a 64-year-old woman from Pune who experienced symptoms like fever, body ache, rashes, and joint pain. Pregnant women are advised to follow all precautions to prevent mosquito bites as zika can especially cause complications like paralysis during pregnancy or birth defects. Zika cases are also spreading in Karnataka. Transmitted by aedes mosquitoes, most people infected with Zika virus do not develop any symptoms. People who develop symptoms report of rash, fever, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise and headache that last for 2–7 days, as per WHO. Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in a Rhesus macaque monkey. (Also read: PMC covers 500 houses as Pune city reports first case of Zika virus)
“Zika Virus is a mosquito-borne illness found typically in tropical countries. It is not endemic to any particular region, and it can be seasonal. It typically manifests as a fever and some skin rashes in most people. It can be quite debilitating for women who are pregnant because it can affect the brain development of the baby that is being carried. So, pregnant women should especially be careful,” says Dr Pavithra Venkatagopalan, Virologist and Covid awareness specialist at Rotary Club of Madras NextGen.
Why Zika is spreading
“In the face of the escalating Zika virus cases, understanding its nature becomes pivotal. Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, manifests with symptoms ranging from mild fever, rash, joint pain to severe neurological complications, especially threatening pregnant ladies and their unborn children. The surge in cases is often propelled by various factors, including climate changes, increased travel, and urbanization, fostering favourable breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes. The prevention stands as our primary defence—eliminating stagnant water sources, using mosquito repellents, and wearing protective clothing. Bolstering immunity through a balanced diet, adequate rest, and regular exercise help fortifies our body’s resilience against this viral intrusion. Amidst these challenges, proactive management through community awareness, robust surveillance, and accessible healthcare services remains crucial,” says Dr RR Dutta, HOD, Internal Medicine, Paras Health, Gurugram
Symptoms of Zika virus
“Zika virus usually causes mild disease. The symptoms are generally fever with joint and muscle pain and headache, conjunctivitis and a rash. The disease mimics dengue and chikungunya with some subtle differences. Fever, myalgia and headache in zika is less than dengue and chikungunya while the rash and conjunctivitis is more prominent. These patients do not have complications such as bleeding or shock which is seen in dengue. Most recover in a week. The practical message is that if a patient presents with a dengue like illness and tests negative for both dengue and chikungunya, they should be tested for Zika,” says Dr Tanu Singhal, Consultant, Paediatrics and infectious disease at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital Mumbai.
“Most people do not have symptoms of the Zika virus. In fact, nobody will even know. It will gently come up as flu-like symptoms, i.e., headaches, body aches, and rashes. The time period is 2 to 7 days for a human with a normal immune system. It will not cause any problems. However, pregnant women have to be extremely careful when carrying in and around areas that could have Zika virus infection,” says Dr Pavithra.
Dr Pavithra says since there are currently no vaccines against Zika virus, the treatment is only based on symptoms. She says the only way to prevent Zika virus transmission is to be aware of the cases in and around your area.
“You can prevent the spread of mosquitoes by wearing fully-covered clothing and using mosquito repellent if your skin will allow those kinds of treatments,” says the expert.
Complications caused by Zika virus
There are two major complications of zika virus infection as per Dr Tanu Singhal.
“The first is Guillain Barre syndrome a condition which is characterized by sudden onset weakness of muscles causing paralysis. However, the biggest danger with zika is infection in pregnant women where in 30% of cases the infection can be transmitted to the foetus. Consequences include brain abnormalities such as small head size (1-6%), eye and limb abnormalities, hearing loss, seizures, developmental delay. Foetal loss, preterm delivery, growth retardation and low birth weight is seen in 5% of affected babies,” says Dr Singhal.
“Zika is transmitted by Aedes aegypti, the same mosquito that transmits dengue/ chikungunya. This mosquito breeds in clean water and bites during the day. It cannot fly long distances. So, the source is usually within the home. Hence protection entails elimination of such artificial water sources in the house and use other measures such as long-sleeved clothes, repellents etc
There is no specific immunity booster against zika. There is no data supporting use of vitamin D/ C or multivitamin tablets or ayurvedic medicines for prevention of zika or for that matter any other infection. Healthy diet, exercise, proper sleep, maintaining ideal body weight is what is recommended in general as an immunity booster,” concludes Dr Singhal.