Zika: the new threat

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Zika: the new threat
Zika: the new threat

News of another misfortune has flooded the global media. Zika fever, which quickly turns into a pandemic, is easier than the flu. So what's the danger?


On January 26, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an official warning to travelers urging them to be as careful as possible when traveling to dozens of countries in the Caribbean, Africa, Oceania, and virtually all South American states, including Brazil and Mexico. Pregnant women are advised to completely refuse to visit them, and those who do decide to do so are encouraged to discuss protective measures with specialists.

The governments of a number of countries where the infection has spread have recommended that women postpone pregnancy due to the risk of having children with severe pathologies. And on February 1, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, is holding an emergency meeting of the international commission to work out the necessary measures: the virus that has swept half the planet has been officially recognized as a pandemic. It is difficult to estimate the current number of people infected. According to various sources, it can range from 440 thousand to 1.3 million people.

The virus and its carrier

Zika flavivirus (ZIKV) belongs to a group that also carries far more dangerous infections, including hepatitis C, yellow fever, tick-borne encephalitis and dengue fever. The disease was described in the late 1940s by researchers working in Uganda who studied yellow fever, but a sick monkey was found in the Zika forest, from whose blood a new virus was isolated. Already in the early 1950s, fever was found in humans.

There is still unconfirmed data on the transmission of the virus through sexual contact, as well as through blood. However, we can reliably say that the key carriers of ZIKV are the biting mosquitoes Aedes albopictus and Aedes albopictus, which also spread yellow fever, some forms of encephalitis, dengue fever and many other diseases.

In tropical countries, they are found everywhere, both in the wild and in urban areas. The wide distribution of these insects around the world, according to CDC experts, practically guarantees the rapid further spread of the disease. Residents of humid subtropical regions of more northern countries, especially in densely populated areas, are not immune from their bites. However, in temperate and cold climates, the disease is usually brought by travelers returning from the south.

Fever and its symptoms

The manifestations of the disease are rather weak and generally resemble respiratory viral infections, including influenza. Symptoms include fever and fever, joint aches, redness of the eyes, muscle and headaches, and vomiting. A red rash may appear on the skin. At the same time, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), such manifestations develop only in one in four patients, and according to the CDC, in one in five.

Most often, Zika fever runs unnoticed and lasts no more than a week. However, this does not mean that the disease is harmless. First, there are some indications that it is fraught with a severe complication in the form of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an acute autoimmune reaction that ends in disability in 15% of cases, and death in 5%. Secondly, the teratogenic effect of fever has been practically proven, in other words, an action leading to severe disturbances in embryonic development.

Microcephaly and its danger

The first hints of the teratogenicity of Zika fever came when epidemiologists found a link between its spread and an increase in the incidence of microcephaly in newborns in South America. In Brazil, the outbreak has been registered since October 2015: the frequency of this lesion has jumped 10 times at once.

Such children are born normal in everything except the head, which turns out to be abnormally underdeveloped. Accordingly, the size of the brain also decreases, which is fraught with mental deficiency of all sorts, from imbecility to severe idiocy.

And although tests of sick children for the presence of the Zika virus have given conflicting results so far, this does not change the matter too much - the virus could have done its dirty deed even during pregnancy. In addition, other unpleasant relatives of Zika, including the already mentioned dengue fever, lead to microcephaly.

Sick women "in position" need to especially carefully monitor the course of pregnancy and visit specialists at least once every few weeks. It should be remembered that there have been no cases of transmission of the Zika virus in the milk of a nursing mother.

Treatment and prevention

Zika fever does not require hospitalization, and the patient is shown the usual measures for acute respiratory viral infections: bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids to replenish fluid loss, if necessary, conventional drugs to lower the temperature and pain relievers, for example, paracetamol. At the same time, CDC experts warn against the use of aspirin until the patient has excluded dengue fever, in which this drug can lead to dangerous hemorrhages.

There is no targeted treatment for Zika, and there is no vaccine for the virus. Therefore, the best medicine in this case - as, indeed, always - prevention. Until the passions have subsided, the CDC advises to be extra careful when visiting countries affected by the pandemic. To protect against harmful mosquitoes, it is recommended not to forget about tight clothes with long sleeves and trousers, and hats. Indoors, it is better to keep windows and doors closed, use air conditioning in the heat and sleep under a mosquito net.

And of course, you should use repellents. The CDC recommends products containing diethyltoluamide (“DEET”), icaridin, IR335, and eucalyptus extract. This must be remembered by those who are sick, so that with new bites the dangerous virus does not continue its triumphant march around the world.

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