The Zika virus – causes & prevention. A practical guide

27 May 2016

As the outbreak continues to generate headlines across the globe, with the Health Ministry in Cuba recently reporting its first case of Zika virus transmission inside the country.

According to the International Federation of the Red Cross, the virus is now present in 24 countries and territories in the Americas. While the rapid spread of the virus has caused some alarm and public concern, it is important to emphasise that the virus poses a threat to pregnant women and their unborn babies and does not affect the general population.

The Zika virus is predominantly spread through mosquito bites and in very rare cases, through sexual intercourse. It is not transmitted through casual contact and presents an extremely low level of risk to the general public.

Pregnant women are most at risk from the virus and should be aware of the potential risk to their unborn child developing microcephaly, a foetal deformity causing an abnormally small head and underdeveloped brain.

Pregnant women should postpone travel to areas where the Zika infection is concentrated, such as Latin America, the Polynesian islands of Tonga and Samoa, the Caribbean, and most recently Cuba.

If travel cannot be avoided, then the normal precautions such as mosquito repellents, mosquito nets and long sleeved clothes should be used as preventative measures.

Women living in affected areas may want to consider delaying pregnancy until the World Health Organisation (WHO) declares the area free of Zika, or an approved vaccine against the virus is developed. As there are currently no treatment options available, prevention is vital.

The majority of people who contract the virus do not display any symptoms, with around 20% of those who contract the virus experiencing mild symptoms.

These include a low grade fever, a rash, conjunctivitis or joint discomfort mainly in the hands and feet, between two and 12 days after the mosquito bite. Anyone who thinks they may have contracted the virus can consult their medical provider for more information.

When it comes to understanding the Zika virus, there are still a number of unknowns, such as the exact incubation period and often it is these unknowns that drives panic and hype.

Scientists and medical experts around the globe are working hard to fully understand the threats the virus poses and how to stop it from spreading.

The role for iPMI providers is to ensure that their clients understand the potential risks, provide well informed and sound advice and most importantly reassure their clients about their wellbeing and safety.

Extract taken from an article written by Dr. Ulrike Sucher, medical director at Allianz Worldwide Care

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