The Department of Health (DOH) revealed in a press briefing recently that an American woman tested positive for the Zika virus after staying for four weeks in the Philippines in January, a clear indication that the Zika virus is present in the country.
This is the second case of the virus reported in the country; the first was a 15-year-old from Cebu in 2012 who had no history of traveling abroad. The DOH has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find out where exactly the American, who was tested shortly upon her return home to the U.S., traveled in the Philippines.
DOH secretary Janette Garin, however, stressed that there is “no cause to panic” despite the confirmed case of Zika virus. In an interview with Inquirer.net, Garin said, “This is just one case. There is no epidemic...There is no outbreak of the Zika virus in the Philippines.” She further noted that 80 percent of the cases of the Zika virus have no symptoms at all, and it clears up without the patients knowing that they had even been infected.
It is the pregnant women who are most at risk for the Zika virus. Here are the important updates you need to know plus how you can protect yourself and your family.
Does the Zika virus really cause microcephaly? A new study claims that babies of women infected with Zika virus while they were infected suffer a range of birth defects, not just microcephaly, and eye problems. "We saw problems with the fetus or the pregnancy at eight weeks, 22 weeks, 25 weeks, and we saw problems at 35 weeks," said Dr. Karin Nielsen, professor of clinical pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, who helped organize the study in an interview with NBC News. The researchers are calling it the Zika virus congenital syndrome. It has also been linked to serious eye problems in newborns.
What can you do to avoid getting infected? There is still no vaccine against the Zika virus so it’s best to avoid travel to countries where Zika is active. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman—the Zika virus has been confirmed to be also transmitted via sexual intercourse and blood transfusion, aside from Zika-carrying mosquitos. The DOH has also asked women of child-bearing age to delay pregnancy.
How can you protect your family? The Zika virus is carried by the same type that also carries dengue and chikungunya diseases, so it's important to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos especially if you are pregnant. Here are some guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO):
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Cover up. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, preferably light-coloured. Place screens in windows and doors to prevent mosquitos from getting inside the house.
Lather up. Use insect repellant products containing DEET, picardin, oil of lemon eucalyptus. DEET is considered safe for pregnant women and children ages two and above.
Clean up. Get rid of dirty, stagnant water, which can be a breeding ground for mosquitos.
What are the symptoms? According to the Inquirer report, the American had a fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, and conjunctivitis during her last week in the Philippines, consistent with what is known about virus. Fortunately, she isn't pregnant.
What do you do do if you were infected? Symptoms for the virus can be so mild that it's rarely reported. However, pregnant women who have the symptoms above should have themselves checked asap, especially those who have traveled to countries where the Zika virus is active should get tested immediately. If results turn out positive, she she should get an ultrasound and continuous monitoring of the baby in her womb.
Sources March 6, 2016. "Zika virus detected in PH" (inquirer.net) March 4, 2016. "Study Finds Zika Damages Babies at All Stages of Pregnancy" (nbcnews.com) March 1, 2016. "'Strong evidence' of Zika virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome link" (nhs.uk ) February 10, 2016. "Zika could cause babies to go BLIND: Those born with microcephaly may 'also suffer serious eye abnormalities'" (dailymail.com.uk)