Zika – what is this all about?

More ominous diseases have less threatening names. If you say malaria, we are all familiar with that – we don’t panic – but say Zika and in East Africa, we imagine death. After all the Swahili meaning of the word Zika is bury.


Zika is spread by the mosquitoes that bite during the day. If you pay close attention to these day-biting mosquitoes, you will notice that they have white and black stripes –  ‘zebra mosquitoes’. These day-biting mosquitoes are known as Aedes. These Aedes do not transmit malaria, but they transmit some viruses, which include Zika and the less dangerous, Chikungunya.


Sleeping under a mosquito net will not protect you from these unless you intend to walk around all day with a mosquito net over you – use of repellants and wearing clothes that cover most of you will help. Making sure homes have screens on doors and windows and doing everything possible to keep mosquitoes away will help – but it’s not easy to stop these day-biters.

Aedes - Taken from BBC, source AP

Aedes – Taken from BBC, source AP


However, infection with Zika is unlikely to get anyone buried. Despite the scary name, Zika does not kill. In fact only 1 in 5 people infected with this virus get sick. The symptoms are similar to malaria: conjunctivitis (red eyes), fever, joint pain, headache, joint pains and these last several days to a week. The virus remains in the body for a few days and the person recovers fully from this annoying but rather harmless disease. While a person is infected with the virus, mosquitoes that feed on them become infected and therefore spread the virus to other people.


So why the fuss?


Zika will cause this mild to moderate disease I have mentioned until it infects a pregnant woman. This is where the virus causes untold suffering and heartache to so many families…







Scientists have not worked out how it happens, but the Zika virus leads to babies being born with very small heads because their brains have not developed properly during pregnancy.




According to CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/zika/), babies with microcephaly can have a range of other problems, depending on how severe their microcephaly is. Microcephaly has been linked with the following problems:

  • Seizures
  • Developmental delay, such as problems with speech or other (like sitting, standing, and walking)
  • Intellectual disability (decreased ability to learn and function in daily life)
  • Problems with movement and balance
  • Feeding problems, such as difficulty swallowing
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision problems

Before you panic at every daytime bite by a mosquitoe, we can AT THE MOMENT rest easy as the virus is restricted to South America.


Areas with active Zika transmission

Areas with active Zika transmission in purple


But as we know, diseases are travelling faster these days than ever before so health workers should be on the alert. The reality is that this is easier said than done. Diagnosing Zika is not straightforward and accurate tests are expensive. Most often, health workers become aware there is a problem when an abnormally high number of women deliver babies with small heads and by then, many more have been infected.


The USA is worried by this situation as they are so close to the problem. Fox news have reported that a woman in Minnesota has returned to the USA infected with Zika.




President Obama is worried about the potential of the virus spreading north fast and is urging more research into treatments and vaccines




I am re-assured that at least in the USA when they say ‘no stone will be left unturned’ –  they mean it. May Zika be buried soon.