Prevalent in the Americas, Cape Verde and the Pacific Islands, the Zika virus causes much discomfort and has no known vaccine. Prevention of mosquito bites is the only solution thus far.
Rehan and Samaira Sheikh* have been at loggerheads for two weeks now – over a seemingly trivial matter. The UAE-based couple just cannot decide where they should vacation this month – he wants to go to Rio for the Olympics, she will have none of it. “I have been planning to go to Rio since last year, but she insists on going somewhere else.” Why, you ask, what’s her objection to Rio? “She’s afraid of the Zika virus,” he rolls his eyes.
“There is no vaccine for the virus yet,” Samaira shoots back. “All my doctor can tell me is that I should protect myself from mosquito bites. How much can you protect yourself? It’s better to lay low and stay away from countries on the Zika virus list for a few more days.”
Latin America is the most affected country
From Barbados to Venezuela and from Brazil to Peru, the Zika virus has the Americas firmly in its grasp. Cape Verde in Africa and the Pacific/Oceania Islands (Samoa, Fiji, etc.) are also affected by the virus, which has been in a virulent form ever since it caused in outbreak in Brazil last year. It is transmitted by the bite of the Aedesaegypti mosquito (same as the dengue mosquito) and shows symptoms such as fever, body ache, skin rashes, joint pains, nausea, muscle pain and stiffness. Dengue, too, has had the region in a vice like grip for over a year now – an expected development, since the same mosquito causes both conditions. This factor has sparked fear of the Zika virus spreading just like dengue has in other parts of the world, especially in South East Asia.
Just like the malaria or dengue viruses, the Zika virus also incubates in the human body for up to a week before symptoms actually begin to manifest themselves. Since its symptoms are similar to those of chikungunya and dengue, the Zika virus is often misdiagnosed.
Zika should not stop you from travelling
But Samaira need not worry, though it is probably sound common sense to stay away from Rio for a while – like a host of international athletes already have, by declaring their non-participation in the 2016 Olympics. However, if prevention is better than cure, then there are ways to prevent the Zika virus from touching you or a loved one.
Take, for example, the use of long sleeved clothing, liquid electrical mosquito repellent and mosquito repellent cream on the skin to prevent infected mosquitoes from biting you. Electrical mosquito repellents are safe even for babies, and are a good overall protection for the entire home, while repellent creams can be used when heading out of home. “I just returned from Brazil a week ago, and I took care to keep my body covered all day and night, even in hot weather,” says Amit Khatri*, a Karama-based engineer. “Since Zika mosquitoes normally bite during the day, I would slather on mosquito repellent cream and at night, I would sleep in an airconditioned room to keep out the mosquitoes. My doctor said I should still get myself tested for Zika, so I’m going to do that soon,” he says.
Samaira has been reading up on the Zika virus extensively, and Rehan laughs, has become “obsessive” about the virus. But her precautions for her home are commendable: she never allows water to sit in containers or planters, and keeps the mosquito repelling vaporiser constantly on.
Standing water is a fertile breeding ground for the Zika mosquito, and it must be removed at all costs. Samaira takes care not to let dishwater sit in the sink for long, and has invested in repellent aerosols which she sprays around the house twice a day. These are odourless and are formulated with charged particles that zap flying insects like mosquitoes and flies and keep new insects from entering the home. “An office colleague’s husband got the virus and he didn’t know that he had it. He took two weeks to get better,” she sighs.
While sometimes it might become impossible to avoid the Zika-affected countries altogether, one cannot get too complacent about the fact that one’s country is not on the Zika virus hotlist. The virus is transmitted from an infected mosquito to a human. Then it spreads amongst humans via sexual contact between infected persons, or from blood transfusions, or from a pregnant woman to her foetus. Interestingly, the virus can also be transferred from an infected human to a mosquito, which can then continue the chain of transmission. This means that the potential for transmitting the virus from one country to another is huge.
* Characters in this article are fictional and used for illustrative purposes.