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FHM Explainer: Is The Zika Virus The Next Dengue?

What's up with this disease which has the World Health Organization on high alert?
by John Paulo Aguilera | Feb 3, 2016
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The first case of Zika virus transmission in the US has been reported earlier today.

An individual in Dallas County, Texas, has been found out to have contracted the virus after having sex with an infected person, who got the disease from a Zika hotspot, the country of Venezuela, local health officials confirmed.

A "public health emergency of international concern" has been declared by the World Health Organization recently over the said virus "spreading explosively," and its supposed connection to the increase of newborns with abnormally small heads (a condition called microcephaly) in Brazil and French Polynesia.

For our part, the Department of Health (DOH) guaranteed on Tuesday that the Philippines is still Zika-free, and that the government is prepared to address such cases. The Department of Foreign Affairs are also looking into isolated reports of Filipinos contracting the disease in Honduras and the Carribean.

The last documented Zika case in the country was in 2012—a 15-year-old in Cebu who fully recovered after three weeks. Couple that with infections being primarily limited to the Americas and you'll understand why the average Pinoy is basically clueless on this disease which is "relatively milder compared to dengue."

In this edition of the FHM Explainer, we delve into the frequently asked questions about the Zika virus, and find out if it has the potential to be the next big mosquito-borne epidemic in the country.


How is it transmitted?

Either through a bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito; through blood, though fairly uncommon; and through sexual intercourse. Prenatal transmission is also a possibility, with the virus reportedly found in the amniotic fluid of fetuses and in the placentas and brains of miscarried ones with microcephaly.

There have been rumors of the release of genetically modified mosquitoes by biotechnology engineers in 2012—originally to combat dengue—being the origin of the outbreak, but these are yet to be proven.

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What is the difference between Zika, dengue, and chikungunya?

Let's look at this, symptoms-wise:

Dengue — more severe muscle pain and high fever, which if breaks, is usually fatal

Chikungunya — higher fever and more intense joint pain in the hands, feet, knees, and back, to the point of incapacitating the patient

Zika — no clear characteristic features, aside from skin rashes and conjunctivitis (red eyes) in most patients, which typically begin two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito


How do we treat it?

While there is still no vaccine or specific drug for this virus, any measure to control and relieve its symptoms—rest, fluids—is highly recommended.

When it comes to prevention and future protection, early detection, correct diagnosis, and cleaner surroundings (less mosquito breeding grounds) are just some of the keys.

It is also said that once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections (read: acquired immunity).


How long does it last?

Usually for several days to a week.

While "not a clinically serious infection," according to WHO's Dr. Bruce Aylward, the complications the mild illness can lead to—microcephaly, possibly Guillain-Barré syndrome (though no direct causal relationship has been confirmed)—are quite alarming.

Ultimately, if ever it reaches our shores, Zika may not be the same terror dengue is here in the Philippines, given our apparent readiness (at least the DOH claims). But it certainly is still something to be wary of.

 

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