5 things to know about Zika, including the latest Canadian figures

By on April 8, 2016


(Photo courtesy of the official Facebook page of Brock University)
(Photo: Brock University/Facebook)

TORONTO—Here are five things to know about Zika and its rapid and explosive spread in the Americas, which the World Health Organization calls a global emergency that poses a public health threat to other parts of the world.

What it is

Zika is a virus carried by the Aedes species of mosquitoes, primarily day-biting bugs that can transmit the infection from one person to another.

Where it came from

Zika was first detected in a rhesus monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947. Since then, the mosquito-borne disease has spread from Africa to Southeast Asia, hopped onto some Pacific Islands, and then moved into Brazil and subsequently most of South America. The disease is now also endemic in Central America, many Caribbean countries and parts of Mexico.

What it does

About 80 per cent of people infected by Zika don’t develop symptoms, but those who do experience fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. The illness is usually mild and lasts for several days to a week after a bite from an infected mosquito. There is no treatment for the infection, nor a vaccine to prevent it.

Complications

Zika has been potentially linked in Brazil to thousands of cases of abnormally small heads in infants born to women who may have been infected while pregnant, as well as cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological condition that can cause muscle weakness or even partial paralysis. Researchers are still trying to determine whether Zika causes both the birth defect—known as microcephaly—and Guillain-Barre.

Here at home

As of April 7, there were 44 travel-related cases of Zika virus reported in Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says the risk of infection to Canadians is low, as Aedes mosquitoes aren’t native to this country.

However, PHAC advises women wishing to get pregnant to wait at least two months after returning from countries where Zika is circulating before trying to conceive. Men who visit a country where Zika is active should use condoms with any partner who could become pregnant for six months after their return; men with a pregnant partner should use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy.