Dumaguing: Scared of the Zika Virus?

Dr. Victor Dumaguing

FIRST, it was the Avian flu virus, then the Ebola, hen the4 MERS-CO Virus and now, the Zika virus. The panic button all over the world is nervously activated and the communication lines across the Atlantic are figuratively burning.

Experts in Switzerland- based World Health Organization are in constant contact with their specialists counterparts at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta Georgia, USA. And for very good and very urgent reasons.

Currently, more than 20 countries, mostly in South America and Central America are affected by the Zika virus, with Brazil registering close to 4000 cases. The spread has become alarmingly fast that citizens of Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have been advised to postpone pregnancy within two years. The latest news is that the Zika virus has made its presence in Canada and the US. On the Asian side, it appears that Thailand and Taiwan are monitoring closely a few citizens suspected of incubating the virus.

The Zika virus attracted global attention when community health personnel noticed infants with unusually small heads not only in the favelas of Brazil as well in rural hinterlands. Pediatricians say that a healthy, normal baby born full term (38-42 weeks or that's nine months, calendar months) should have at least 42 centimeters size of the head measured just above the eyes.

It is said that 80 percent of the brain develops in utero, that is, while the baby is still inside the womb, 10 percent develops on the first year and the remaining 10 percent up to 4 years of life.

This incremental increase in the size of the brain explains why, if you gently run your fingers on the head of a newborn, there are gaps or soft depressions on the cranial bones- called fontanels, posterior and anterior) which represent spaces which will eventually close as the baby grows older, with specific time frames as reference as to when these fontanels should close. Thus, health authorities in Brazil noticed a significant number of infants (newborn up to one year old) and even older babies having microcephaly (small-sized heads), which upon closer scrutiny some of whom have associated brain deformity and visual problems. Henceforth, the verdict, Zika virus is the culprit.

Zika virus belongs to the Flaviviridae family; it is an RNA containing virus (viruses are the only microbes which contain a DNA or an RNA, the rest of microbes contain both). It is a vector-borne disease that is transmitted thru insects and in this case a mosquito belonging to the genus Aedes aegypti, the same day-biting mosquito that spreads Yellow fever, Dengue and Chikungunya.

Epidemiologists show that the mosquito thrives in countries near the equator or in the tropics, particularly in congested areas where sanitation and hygiene leave much to be desired, thus most of the victims are the underprivileged members of society. The signs and symptoms are very similar to the usual flu, and that explains why the victims hardly take them seriously like generalized malaise- weakness with joint, muscle pains-, fever, a rash, sore eyes, with pain behind the eyeball accompanied by headache. Some complaint of nausea and vomiting.

In other words, the disease is rather mild and being viral is self-limiting that is, the ailment will spontaneously heal itself, provided the immunity of the person is good, on top of sound nutrition wit rest and sleep. The usual duration is a week.

As of the moment, is uncertain as to which part of the pregnancy is the disease most harmful to the growing fetus. Although, it can be surmised that the first trimester (first three months) is when the pregnant woman is affected, as exemplified by Rubella or German measles I which if a pregnant woman contracts the disease, then her baby will likely have the so-called PDA or patent ductus arteriosus, an abnormal connection between the pulmonary artery and the aorta of the baby.

The sad reality is, unlike dengue, in which there is now an available vaccine, with the fast-spreading Zika disease, there is no vaccine, much less cure. Aware that the disease is spread by the female Aedes, the doctors at the United Kingdom engaged the expertise of geneticist and came up with genetically-modified male Aedes mosquito and release them in endemic areas hopefully to mate with the female so as to produce some sort of hybridized mosquito which can no longer transmit the virus.

Our Department of Health has been quick to reassure the public that, thankfully, no case of Zika disease has so far been detected in the Philippines. Thus the usual advisory is focused on the mosquito which includes using insect repellants, wearing loose by long sleeved shirts and pants, better-yet if the clothing is treated with the chemical permethrin, installation of window/door screens. Of course, it makes sense to deprive the mosquito of its habitat so make sure that containers of water should be emptied regularly- weekly because that appears to be the complete maturation process of an adult Aedes especially garbage containers, old tires , discarded plastic bottles. And old-fashioned it may seem, good, old, reliable mosquito net. So wives, although the Zika virus affects pregnant women only, even if your husband has been naughty, forgive and allow him to be inside the kulambo. Need we say more?