6 things to know about the Zika virus

BY AFPJan 25,2016 at 22:33

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(THE STRAITS TIMES) While there has not been any Zika virus cases detected in Singapore so far, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Sunday (Jan 24) that it was monitoring the virus situation closely.

The ministry is also considering taking precautionary measures against the virus, which is spreading fast across Latin America and is suspected of causing birth defects.

US authorities on Friday expanded its travel warning for pregnant women to avoid 22 places in Latin America and the Caribbean, while a Thai man was hospitalised with the virus after arriving in Taiwan earlier this month.

Here are some important things to know about the virus.


1. WHAT IS THE ZIKA VIRUS?

The word "zika" is derived from the Zika forest in Uganda, where the virus was first isolated by scientists in 1947 from a sentinel rhesus monkey.

Transmitted to humans via mosquitoes, the Aedes mosquito - which also spreads dengue and chikungunya - is the only known carrier of the virus.


2. WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS TO LOOK OUT FOR?

The symptoms associated with the virus are usually quite mild, and only about one in five people infected actually fall ill.

Common signs to look out for include a slight fever, rash, conjuctivitis, headache as well as joint and muscle pain.

The incubation period is not known, but is likely to range between a few days to a week. During the first week of infection, the virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites.

Hospitalisation due to the virus is not common, while deaths are rare.


3. CAN THE VIRUS BE TREATED?

There is currently no vaccine available for the virus, so only the symptoms can be treated.

To avoid getting infected, use insect repellent, wear clothing that cover the body, arms and legs, and sleep under mosquito nets or in rooms with wire mesh.

As with measures to curb the spread of dengue and prevent the breeding of the Aedes mosquito, the public should also ensure there is no stagnant water at home.


4. IS THE VIRUS REALLY LINKED TO A BIRTH DEFECT?

The Zika virus is alleged to cause microcephaly, a neurological disorder in which infants are born with smaller craniums and brains.

There has been as alarming rise in microcephaly in Brazil over the past year, with 3,893 cases reported since Jan 16. There were also 49 reported deaths of deformed babies.

But thus far, health authorities in the country have only confirmed six cases of microcephaly where the infant was infected with the virus passed on from the mother.

Investigations are ongoing in Brazil to confirm that there is a causal link between the two. More studies are also reportedly being planned to learn more about the risks of a Zika virus infection during pregnancy.


5. HOW MANY COUNTRIES HAVE REPORTED ACTIVE TRANSMISSION OF THE VIRUS?

In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) first issued an alert about an outbreak in Brazil.

Currently, 22 areas in Latin America and the Caribbean have active Zika virus transmission. US authorities on Friday (Jan 22) expanded its travel warning for pregnant women to avoid the 22 places.

They are Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Surinam and Venezuela.

Three people in New York who travelled to areas where the virus was spreading rapidly tested positive for the virus, city officials said on Friday.

On Jan 15, the US announced its first case of the virus when a baby born with brain damage in a Hawaii hospital was confirmed as having been infected by Zika. The baby's mother was believed to have had a Zika infection while living in Brazil in May last year, with the baby probably infected in the womb.


6. SHOULD SINGAPORE AND THE REST OF THE REGION BE WORRIED?

Before 2015, the Zika virus had been detected in areas in Africa, South-east Asia and the Pacific Islands.

According to a journal published by MOH in March 2014, two tourists from Canada and Germany were diagnosed with Zika fever after returning from Thailand in 2013. That same year, Australia also reported a case of Zika fever in a returning citizen from Indonesia.

These cases may have indicated the presence of an outbreak of the virus in Thailand and Indonesia, the journal said.

On Tuesday, Taiwan had its first reported case of the virus. A 24-year-old man from northern Thailand was hospitalised in the country after travelling there for work on Jan 10.

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