WITH the detection at the beginning of the month of the first case of the dreaded Zika virus in the Philippines this year, the Department of Health (DOH) is again reminding everyone to take precautions to protect themselves against the mosquito-borne disease.
The DOH said that it is on alert for any more suspected cases of Zika infection, particularly in view of the current outbreak in Singapore, which has seen more than 300 cases so far.
There are currently six known cases of Zika infection in the Philippines, according to the DOH.
The virus is carried by the same Aedes species of mosquito that can transmit the Dengue and Chikungunya viruses. The Aedes aegypti mosquito is found mainly in urban areas, while the Aedes albopictus mosquito is found in rural areas. Both are aggressive and most active during the daytime, although bites can occur at night as well.
Bites from an infected mosquito are the most common way Zika virus is transmitted, but it can also be passed through unprotected sex with an infected person, and infected mothers can pass the virus to their unborn babies.
The two most serious conditions that can result from Zika infection are microcephaly, or abnormally small heads on newborns, caused by incomplete brain development; and it is believed to cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which is a sudden weakening of the muscles and can affect people of any age. Other birth defects such as impaired growth, and eye or ear defects are also suspected of being caused by Zika infection.
The symptoms of Zika infection are generally rather mild, and include fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, red eyes, and headache, which can last for several days to a week. Most sufferers are not made ill enough to require hospital treatment unless they develop a complication (such as the aforementioned Guillain-Barre Syndrome), and Zika is rarely fatal, usually only when the sufferer already has another serious medical condition.
Prevention only defense
Although medical researchers are working quickly to try to develop a vaccine to prevent Zika, it is likely to be some time before one is available, so the only protection is to take measures to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes, or being exposed to infection through sexual contact.
The DOH pointed out that the same measures used to fight dengue infection, which is common in the Philippines, also help to prevent the spread of Zika. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when possible, avoiding areas where there a lot of mosquitoes, removing or emptying containers and other places around the house where water can collect, using mosquito netting at night, and screening windows and doors are all helpful steps.
Because Zika can be transmitted from person to person, however, the DOH and other health agencies also strongly recommend practicing safe sex or abstinence.
Mosquito repellents are also a good defense, but information from the US Centers for Disease Control cautioned against the use of repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on young children. In no case should mosquito repellents be used on babies younger than two months. The CDC recommends repellents containing permethrin, as these are proven safe even for pregnant or nursing mothers when used according to the directions.
There is no specific treatment for Zika infection. The DOH said that if you suspect you or one of your family members has Zika, visit the local health center or hospital as soon as possible for testing and examination. Although the sickness is relatively mild for most patients, it is important to see a doctor to identify any possible complications and receive proper treatment, as well as help the authorities track the disease in the country.
Normal treatment is much like that for a case of the flu: Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, and take a mild pain reliever such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to help reduce fever. The CDC adds that if you are taking medication for another condition, check with your healthcare provider before taking anything else, and that aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should not be taken.
Both the DOH and the CDC stressed that Zika sufferers should take extra precautions to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes during the first 7 to 10 days of illness, to help prevent the spread of the infection to other people.