Officials from the health department of Puerto Rico confirmed on Friday that the island has recorded its first case of locally-acquired Zika infection. The disease, which is spread through the bites of mosquitoes, is being linked to an increased incidence of a severe neurological disorder among infants in Brazil.
Congressman Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico said on Thursday that despite the confirmation of infection, residents of the island should remain calm and must continue to take necessary safety precautions against mosquito bites.
He added that disease experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are set to arrive in Puerto Rico in the early part of this month to help guide physicians on the island to diagnose Zika fever properly and treat infected individuals.
The CDC has issued a health advisory to tourists visiting Puerto Rico and other disease-affected areas, warning them about the potential transmission of the Zika virus through mosquito bites. The disease is known to be most potent on pregnant women, which could cause developmental problems to their unborn child.
What Is Zika Fever?
The Zika fever is an illness caused by the Zika virus (ZIKV), which is a member of the flavivirus genus. It is related to other insect-borne diseases such as yellow fever, West Nile, dengue and Japanese encephalitis.
The ZIKV was first detected in a monkey recovered from the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947, and was later seen in specimens of Aedes africanus mosquitoes from the same forest in 1948. The first case of Zika infection on a human was recorded in Nigeria in 1952.
There are currently two known lineages of the ZIKV: the African lineage, which is linked to the first recorded cases of infection, and the Asian lineage, which has been detected in the Americas and the Pacific most recently.
How Is The Zika Virus Transmitted?
The most common form of transmission of the ZIKV is through the bites of disease-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
However, other species of mosquitoes, such as the Aedes africanus, Aedes albopictus, Aedes polynesiensis, Aedes unilineatus, Aedes vittatus and Aedes hensilli, can also become potential carriers of the virus.
Mosquitoes with the ZIKV often bite their victims during daytime, particularly in mid-morning and the period between late afternoon and evening.
The Zika virus can also be obtained through perinatal transmission. An infected mother can transfer the virus to her child either through trans-placental transmission or during delivery.
Two cases of ZIKV transmission through sexual intercourse were also recorded.
What Are The Symptoms Of Zika Infection?
While a majority of people infected with the virus (between 60 to 80 percent) do not show any signs of infection, those who do typically experience symptoms within three to 12 days after getting bitten by a ZIKV-carrying mosquito.
Some of the typical symptoms include fever, rash, conjunctivitis (red eyes) and joint pain. Other signs include headache, vomiting, muscle pain and pain behind the eyes.
Illness caused by the ZIKV is often mild with symptoms only lasting for several days to about a week. It rarely requires the hospitalization of infected individuals.
There have been no recorded deaths related to Zika infection.
How Can I Get My Zika Infection Treated?
As of the moment, there is no known form of treatment for the Zika virus. People infected by the disease are often asked to get plenty of rest, drink fluids regularly to avoid getting dehydrated and take pain and fever medicines such as paracetamol and acetaminophen.
Doctors advise patients to avoid taking aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) until they can rule out dengue infection to lower the risk of hemorrhage.
Microcephaly In Brazilian Children
Cases of Zika infection in Brazil are currently being associated to a considerable rise in microcephaly incidence among newborns. Microcephaly is a neurological condition that disrupts the normal brain development of children while they are still in their mothers' womb.
While the Zika virus was only detected in Brazil during the early part of 2015, the infection is believed to be linked to more than 2,400 microcephaly cases that were reported in the country last year. The figure is a significant increase compared to the 147 cases that were recorded in 2014.
According to local doctors, a large number of affected mothers experienced symptoms similar to those of Zika infection during the early stages of their pregnancy such as rash, headaches and mild fever.
Infants affected by microcephaly are born with abnormally small heads, which can result in severe developmental problems and early death.
Brazilian health officials are investigating 29 infant deaths related to microcephaly after they discovered through an autopsy that a baby born with the disorder also carried the Zika virus, establishing a potential connection between the two conditions.
The Health Ministry of Brazil said on its website that the situation is unprecedented in world scientific research.
As a result, government officials have advised women to postpone their pregnancies as much as possible. Six of the country's states have already declared a state of emergency.
Pernambuco has already reported more than 900 microcephaly cases, making it the hardest-hit Brazilian state.
Researchers are currently trying to determine whether the Zika virus does indeed cause microcephaly in newborns.
Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture | Flickr