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Zika Virus: What is it?

With the news coverage over the last weeks, many people are aware of the rapid spread of Zika virus in the Americas and the concerns over the risk of microcephaly--a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development and mental retardation--in babies whose mothers are exposed to the virus.

The Obstetrical & Gynecological (O & G) Society of Singapore has produced a short write up for its members. This is reproduced below for our readers The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne single-stranded RNA virus related to Dengue virus. Significantly increasing transmission has been noted in South and Central America over the past few months. The virus is transmitted to humans primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Once infected, the incubation period for the virus is approximately 3-12 days.

Symptoms of the Zika virus disease are non-specific but may include fever, rash, arthralgia, and conjunctivitis. It is not currently known if pregnant woman are at greater risk of infection than non-pregnant individuals. However, it is possible that when contracted in pregnancy, the virus may lead to foetal microcephaly, although it is not yet clear whether this association is causal (although emerging evidence suggests that they may be) or whether additional factors are involved.

In November 2015, the Brazilian Ministry of Health declared a public health emergency following reports of a 20-fold increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, suggesting a potential link with the ongoing outbreak of the Zika virus infection in the region. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommend that all pregnant women should consider postponing travel to areas where the Zika virus transmission is ongoing, and this recommendation has been issued by a number of other countries including Singapore's Ministry of Health. If travel to affected areas cannot be avoided, one should undertake strict precautions against mosquito bites, and monitor their health on return to Singapore for the next 14 days and consult a doctor if symptoms of Zika are present.

While no cases of Zika virus infection have been detected in Singapore thus far, the possibility that there may be undetected cases cannot be ruled out as most infected persons may display mild or no symptoms. It is therefore important to stay vigilant against possible suspect cases, and consider the diagnosis of Zika virus infection among individuals returning from South or Central America, the Caribbean, or the Pacific region who developed a fever and/or other symptoms suggested of Zika virus infection while abroad or within 2 weeks of returning to Singapore.

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