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Sun May 29 13:36:37 SAST 2016

Zika virus: Symptoms‚ possible effects

TMG Digital | 20 February, 2016 12:07
An Aedes Aegypti mosquito is seen in a lab of the International Training and Medical Research Training Center (CIDEIM) in Cali, Colombia. File photo
Image by: JAIME SALDARRIAGA / REUTERS

While South Africans are urged not to panic‚ emergency medical service ER24 advises those travelling to countries where there is a Zika outbreak to familiarise themselves with the symptoms and possible effects of the virus.

An outbreak of the virus (spread to people through an infected mosquito from the Aedes genus‚ mainly Aedes aegypti in tropical regions) has been reported in several parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi disclosed on Friday evening that a Columbian businessman visiting Johannesburg had been diagnosed with the Zika virus infection.

He said the diagnosis had been made by a private Johannesburg pathology laboratory and that a test to confirm it was being performed by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases ( NICD).

The businessman had presented with fever and a rash approximately four days after arrival in South Africa but was now fully recovered.

“The confirmation of this particular case poses no risk to the South African population as the virus is not transmitted from human to human but through the Aedes aegypti mosquitoe and or possibly from mother to the foetus in pregnant women. However‚ a case of sexual transmission was recently reported in the US but is still regarded to be very rare‚” Motsoaledi said.

Dr Robyn Holgate‚ Chief Medical Officer for ER24‚ urges South Africans not to panic. “Bear in mind that illness is relatively mild. However‚ the concern for an unborn child’s wellbeing cannot be ignored. If any traveller is concerned‚ they should consult their GP or contact their Emergency Centre‚” she said.

Effects of the virus on an infected person are said to be usually relatively mild. Symptoms people may experience include skin rashes‚ fever‚ muscle and joint pain‚ conjunctivitis‚ malaise and headache. Symptoms last between two and seven days. It is not common for people infected with the Zika virus to need hospitalisation. There is no treatment or vaccine available at this stage.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)‚ no definite causality can be attributed to Zika virus infection‚ but investigations are ongoing.

However‚ concerns have been raised about potential neurological and auto-immune complications. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO)‚ health authorities in Brazil observed an increase in Zika virus infections among the public as well as an increase in babies born with microcephaly‚ a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development. Microcephaly results in an affected infant’s head being significantly smaller than expected.

However‚ more investigations are being conducted to determine a possible link between the Zika virus and microcephaly in babies as well as other potential causes.

As a precaution‚ the NICD has advised that pregnant women delay travel to areas with current outbreaks of Zika virus.

The NICD also stated that personal protection to avoid mosquito bites is essential for travellers visiting areas where the Zika virus is circulating.

Protection includes the use of insect repellent‚ wearing clothes that cover as much of the body as possible‚ using mosquito screens or nets and closing doors and windows.

The NICD stated that even though the possibility of an infected traveller introducing the Zika virus to South Africa does exist‚ the short viraemic period (virus present in blood) would lessen the chance of the virus being transferred to a susceptible mosquito‚ particularly because local Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have limited flight ranges.

The population is not at risk of contracting the virus from an infected person returning to South Africa as the virus is not contagious and usually requires the assistance of a mosquito vector between hosts.

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