Imran Chohan

Imran Chohan

                         Aedes mosquito,CC photo courtesy of Day Donaldson on Flickr

Concerns about spread of Zika virus growing
By Fatuma Ismail for Somalilandtribune

The world is again faced with another health scare after the Ebola epidemic recently caused havoc in West Africa. This time round, however, the world is struggling to come into terms with little known Zika virus disease which has ringed alarm bells across the globe.

The start of the five-day Brazilian carnival has not helped to subdue fears of the spread of the virus as hundreds of thousands flock to Rio de Janeiro for the annual spectacle. The greatest fear is the possibility of the virus spreading even further as the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics draws closer. Even though WHO has advocated against travel and trade restrictions with countries affected with Zika, the general consensus holds that spread of the virus should be contained before it becomes a pandemic.

The Aedes mosquito transmitted disease has particularly raised public health concern due to its possible link to infant Microcephaly ― a neurodevelopmental disorder associated with incomplete brain development. Even though it has not yet been established beyond doubt that recent clusters of microcephaly cases in Brazil is linked to the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has nonetheless moved to declare the situation as constituting a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. There is, however, according to WHO, a growing body of evidence linking the virus to Microcephaly.

According to WHO, the mosquito-borne disease was first identified in the East African country of Uganda back in 1947 and subsequent outbreaks have been recorded in other parts of Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. More recently, the disease has made rounds in the international media after public health authorities in Brazil confirmed two cases of Zika infection through blood transfusion. Scientists are also investigating other possible means by which the virus could be spread.

There is currently no statistical evidence indicating how many countries the virus has so far been identified in, but it is feared to be spreading fast. WHO, has however, announced that more than 13 countries in the Americas have reported sporadic Zika virus infections.

No case has been reported closer to home in Somaliland with neighbouring countries scientists reported to be on alert. Few days ago, a leading Kenyan newspaper, The Daily Nation quoting a senior figure at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) allayed fears of the presence of the disease in the country. “We will advise accordingly if we discover Zika Virus and the vectors (mosquitoes) transmitting it. However, as it is, the level of risk has not yet been established. We haven’t seen any activity of the virus,” Dr Rosemary Sang, acting director, virus research at KEMRI was quoted by the Nation as saying.

The symptoms of the disease according to WHO are similar to other arbovirus infections such as dengue, and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache. These symptom, according to WHO, are usually mild and lasts for 2-7 days. Severe manifestation and complication in patients with pre-existing diseases or conditions can, however, cause death. There is no known vaccine or specific drug of the virus but the good news is that the disease is both treatable and preventable.