You must have seen photos of children with shrunken heads all over the news — the virus affecting them is extremely dangerous. Purva Indulkar tells you more about the virus that has caused a global emergency
The Zika virus has caused a lot of worry and concern. The World Health Organization recently declared the Zika virus to be a global emergency, placing it in the same category as Ebola. The virus has caused an epidemic in Brazil and 21 other countries in South and Central America.
What is the Zika virus?
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that causes a disturbing infection — it leads to babies being born with underdeveloped brains. However, the fatality rate is very low and only one in five people actually notice the symptoms of the infection, which include mild fever, conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes), headache, joint pain and rashes.
How does it spread?
The Zika virus spreads to people through mosquito bites. These are same the insects that spread dengue and chikungunya as well. Unlike the mosquitoes that spread malaria, these types of mosquitoes are mostly active during the day, so bed nets offer limited protection.
Why is it dangerous?
In Brazil, the epidemic has coincided with an unprecedented rise in cases of microcephly, a birth defect seen in children. If an infected mosquito bites a pregnant woman, her child’s brain may be underdeveloped. Children born with these shrunken heads face intellectual disability and development delays.
What can you do to stay safe?
The disease is expected to spread throughout Latin America, but scientists have warned that countries in Asia could face large outbreaks too. Since the only treatment for this is taking rest and drinking large quantities of water, the sole option left is prevention. Use insect repellents, wear clothes that cover your entire body and keep your windows and doors closed. Bharat Biotech, a Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company, has started conducting trails on a vaccine for the Zika virus. There is no cause for panic, since the disease is still geographically very far away from us, but it is important to be aware of the facts. The WHO has also suggested that if you are pregnant, you shouldn’t travel to South America.