30 per cent of Nigerian women are vulnerable to Zika Virus, says Omilabu
Professor Sunday Aremu Omilabu, is a Virologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos. In this interview with PAUL ADUNWOKE, he spoke on possibility of contracting Zika Virus through sexual intercourse, and other related issues.
What is Zika Virus?
Mosquitoes transmit Zika virus. Essentially, the virus has been linked with Aedes aegypti and Aedes africanus. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are very common in urban settings while Aedes africanus are found in forests.
The virus was isolated in Zika forest, in 1947, in Uganda, from where it derives its name. Zika virus belongs to the family of yellow fever group.
Can Zika Virus be transmitted through sex?
Yes. This is because the mosquitoes that carry the virus piece the body and deposit it in the blood stream. Once the virus is inside the body, it grows within the blood cells. There is what is called viraemia, where various particles are already in cells within the blood. Viraemia persists for a while and is responsible for the fever seen in zika cases as well as can be seen when someone suffers from other virus infections. After viraemia, the body starts to react to the virus, which cause rashes and pains. While an individual is viraemic during that phase, the virus can be transmitted whenever there is abreaction.
When there is sexual intercourse, abreaction takes place, wherein there would be exchange of blood. The same way mosquitoes carry the virus in the blood of an infected person and transmit it to another person is applicable to sex partners. If one is viraemic, during the sexual intercourse, there is possibility of transmitting the virus. When there is abreaction, blood would be released from affected partner to the other individual. Just like in hospitals, during blood transfusion, there is possibility of transmitting the virus if the blood is not properly tested.
What are the signs and symptoms of Zika Virus?
Zika virus is like other viruses that are blood-borne. It usually results in fever, depending on the level of immunity in an individual. Its victims also suffer from viraemia, coupled with body and muscular pains as well as rashes. These are as a result of body’s reaction to the virus. The immune system would always react against the Zika virus in the body.
It is in children, whose immunity is low that the virus can be serious. When infected, children develop fever, and they persevere for one week before their system gives in.
In a mother, who has no immunity, the virus would affect foetus in the womb. This leads to body and muscular pains and also results in microcephaly, whereby the head of the baby would not develop properly.
However, it is not only Zika virus that causes microcephaly, other virus infections can lead to the condition too. Once the virus gets into a pregnant woman, it develops from blood into the placenta, through which it gets into the foetus. There is no protection in the placenta; it only exists in the woman.
But if a woman has immunity, it fights the virus such that it would not get into the foetus. This is why it is essential to check immune status, especially for women of childbearing age. This is what is done in the case of rubella. Rubella is a disease that fights the foetus in the pregnant woman. If a woman has immunity, the virus would be there temporarily because the body would fight to eliminate it.
Almost 20 per cent of Nigerian women of childbearing age do not have immunity against rubella and Zika virus. That is why it is necessary to take immunisation and rubella vaccines for protection.
If a child is born with microcephaly, is it possible for the child to be treated and for him or her to become normal again?
It depends on the stage, when the virus entered the womb. If it happens towards the time of delivery, it is possible to manage. But if it is detected earlier in the mother, she should be given vaccine to protect her against, and boost her immunity to fight Zika virus, including other viruses. This is to enable the body to remain neutral. If the Zika virus gets into the foetus, the chances of repairing the damage would be very slim. When the virus gets in, it grows and damages the tissues. But immunisation and early detection protects the foetus. If the virus is acquired at the point of delivering the baby, the mother should be given immunisation to clean up the virus.
How can pregnant women avoid Zika virus infection?
They should make sure they do not expose themselves to the mosquitoes that carry Zika virus. If the mosquitoes do not bite them, the chance of contracting the virus is very low. They have to wage war against mosquitoes. Zika virus has not been declared an airborne disease. We have mosquitoes that carry the virus and other viruses here with us. If possible, they do not get blood transfusion to avoid coming in contact with contaminated blood during the process.
When is best time to start the treatment?
Once a pregnant woman has fever, and goes for test, if she is diagnosed with Zika virus, there is need to determine the level of the virus and how to start the immunisation. There is also need for premeasuring to know whether the virus is going down or not and know the best duration for the immunisation, if it should be for three days or more. There is need to check the blood during immunisation. This would determine the level of vaccine and duration of the exercise to enable the doctors manage the situations.
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