Zika virus is the latest viral pandemic after Ebola, that has got Health authorities across the world sleepless at nights in less than a week. Currently centered mainly in Brazil and rest of Latin America, this infection is almost on its way to rapid spread across the world. Here’s a roundup of all that you need to know about it in order to defend yourself and your loved ones.
Name: Zika virus
Family: Flaviviridae (cousin to Dengue virus, nearest to Spondweni virus)
Size: 40 nanometer (0.00004 mm)
First discovered: Zika forest, Uganda, Africa, in 1952.
Its primary vector (carrying organism) is the mosquitoes of Aedes genus, most commonly Aedes aegypti, the same mosquito that spreads the Dengue virus by bite. Once into the human body, it can spread through sexual contact or from pregnant mother to her fetus through the placenta. Here’s a map of the world showing the presence of Zika-spreading mosquitoes.
About 60-80% infected people don’t even develop any illness. Those who do, are likely to have moderate fever, rashes, joint/bone pains etc. for a few weeks, which is almost never fatal. Cases are mostly misdiagnosed as mild dengue fever.
Why it is dangerous then?
This virus does not cause any severe illness in adults, but when contracted by a pregnant mother, there has emerged a very large incidence of the child being born with neurological deformities, including microcephaly (having a smaller-than-normal head). Brazil alone has reported about 2400 to 3700 such births in the past couple of months, going by various estimates. In adults, Zika infection is also being linked to Guillain Barre Syndrome (a serious muscular weakness condition, sometimes causing death when complicated). Unfortunately, as of today, there is no known medicine that can effectively cure or prevent this virus. The governments of several affected countries have already advised women to avoid getting pregnant until a solution is found. Here’s a map of the regions currently affected by, or having had earlier incidences of the virus.
What can one do?
1. If in an unaffected country –
– Avoid travelling to affected countries if possible.
– Check for the travel advisories issued by your Government.
– Avoid sexual contact with a person recently returned from an affected country, at least for 2 months even if they are clinically healthy.
2. If in affected area, but uninfected –
– Firstly, know the enemy well. Focus on the vector, and try to banish it from your neighborhood. The Aedes aegypti mosquito can be recognized from ordinary mosquitoes by the white markings on its legs and a marking in the form of a lyre on the upper surface of the thorax. Aedes mosquitoes lay eggs in clean but stagnant water and are active in daytime.
– Cover/disband any stagnant water reservoirs around your house, that can become potential breeding grounds for Aedes.
– Always apply mosquito repellant creams on your skin.
– Keep yourself as much covered as possible till night.
– Use bed-nets, especially for children.
– Eat sufficient vitamin C (citrus fruits, amla, bell peppers etc.)
– Dust/spray mosquito repellant on window panes, shower floors and toilet walls.
– Women should avoid conceiving, as for now at least.
Meanwhile in India –
Serological studies in India have shown a significant part of the Indian population to have antibodies for Zika in their blood. While this may prove sort of an immunity advantage to Indians, it indicates that the virus has been around in other parts of the world too for quiet some time, but remained largely unnoticed. Subsequently, an Indian firm Bharat biotech has now come ahead and claimed to have developed a vaccine on Zika virus, which is in the animal trials stage currently. Still, this means that there is some more time for it to get a regulatory safety clearance and be made available for use.
Curative Treatment –
As of now Zika virus has no specific known effective antiviral drug or vaccine in modern therapy. Allopathic treatment is largely symptomatic (paracetamol for fever, NSAIDs for pain etc.) and consists of merely buying time until your body develops the required antibodies by its own. Traditional systems can suggest a number of herbal drugs, taking cue from the familial relation with dengue (on which several herbal drugs have been tested), but the actual outcomes are still unpredictable.
Such being the case, this blog can only limit itself to suggesting some herbal supplements with general antiviral properties for boosting your immunity. Note that several of these are not good for pregnant mothers in higher doses. So it is better to consult a practitioner first in such a case.
1. Neem – A very well known antiviral in Ayurveda, its seed oil can be used orally as well as topically (if you can bear the odor, of course), or for spraying on window panes etc.
2. Eucalyptus – Its leaf oil is believed to have strong antiviral properties which are currently being investigated in detail, after its largely effective use during the recent swine flu epidemic in India. Also has a strong stimulant scent that repels Aedes mosquitoes. Dried leaves can be burned to fumigate indoors against insects, a practice used in India since ages.
3. Aloe – Aloe vera leaf extract has been shown to have significant general antiviral properties in multiple trials. Apart from that, it’s also very good for liver functions and skin health. Ayurveda describes it as a blood purifier and menstrual regulator as well.
4. Turmeric – Claimed to be a potent antiviral plant and used by herbal physicians since millennia, its mode of action is not fully understood by modern science yet. Still, surely worth an effortless try – just add a pinchful to your milk/tea before boiling, and its done!
5. Holy basil – This natural source of aspirin has also proven to be an effective antiviral against several viruses clinically in recent times. The part used is the leaves or seed stalk; and just like turmeric, it can be a real good flavour-adder to your daily milk.
So that’s all we need to know about Zika to be prepared, as for now. Will be covering and writing more info about the same as it emerges. Till then, you can read an interesting article from fellow blogger @armslengthview here for some deeper insights about the big picture of this issue. As always, feel free to post queries in the comments section below.
Stay healthy, stay happy!
About the Author – Dr. Harshad Rajandekar is a medical practitioner running a practice in Integrative medicine and Ayurveda. He also has an avid interest in public health and epidemiological studies, of which he keeps a regular tracking and shares bits on this blog. You can read more about and connect with Dr. Harshad on LinkedIn here. (Login required to view complete profile).
Images and some of the info are courtesy of Wikipedia.org .