Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Reporter
Zimbabwe’S risk of catching the Zika virus, which is spreading “explosively” in Brazil and has to date affected 23 countries from parts of Africa, the Americas, Europe, the Pacific and Asia, is low, but the country cannot afford to be complacent. Disease prevention and epidemiology director Dr Portia Manangazira said yesterday that considering high international travel and trade, it was possible for the virus to spread as people travel.
“As part of the increasingly small global community due to international travel and trade, we cannot be complacent because as people travel diseases also travel with them,” said Dr Manangazira.
The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, which normally carry parasites, not viruses. “We know little about this virus, so we have a lot of learning to do,” said Dr Manangazira. “From what we hear, the virus is carried by culex or aedex mosquitoes or both and here in Zimbabwe, we have culex mosquitoes.”
Dr Manangazira said from information they have on malaria — which is caused by parasites carried by the anopheles mosquito — a human being can actually transmit the parasite to a malaria causing mosquito which will in turn spread the virus to more human beings.
She said scientists have also proven that mosquitoes can also travel in aeroplanes. “Considering all these facts, we continue to urge our people travelling to the affected areas or those returning from the affected areas to observe the usual precautionary measures,” said Dr Manangazira.
“Our aim is to break the human-mosquito interface, and that can be done by using proven mosquito prevention methods such as repellents, sleeping under a treated mosquito net, wearing long- sleeved clothes and avoiding mosquito-breeding sites such as stagnant water, garbage and tall grass.
“Returning residents coming from the affected countries who suspect that they might have the virus should also seek medical attention quickly.” Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys through a monitoring network of sylvatic yellow fever. It was subsequently identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and Tanzania.
Subsequent outbreaks were then reported for the first time from the Pacific in 2007 and 2013 and in 2015 from the Americas (Brazil and Colombia) and Africa (Cape Verde).
The virus has mild symptoms in adults, but causes microcephalcy, which causes children to be born with abnormally small heads and brains that have not developed properly. In adults, the symptoms are mild and are characterised by flu-like symptoms, rash muscles and joints’ pains.
Brazil is the hardest hit and has so far recorded 270 confirmed cases as microcephalcy and 3 448 suspected cases. The World Health Organisation will today convene an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on the virus to deliberate if it is a global health threat.