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Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus belonging to the same family as the dengue virus. It was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in monkeys and later on in humans in 1950. From the 1960s to the 1980s, human infections were detected across Africa and Asia. (1)
Zika virus is transmitted by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, very much like the dengue virus and chikungunya virus. (2) Outbreaks of Zika virus disease were seen between 2007 and 2013 in the Pacific island of Yap and French Polynesia, respectively. (3)
A large outbreak of Zika virus infection was reported in March 2015 in Brazil, and it was found to be associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome. Cases of Zika virus disease declined from 2017 onward globally, but transmission persists at low levels in several countries in the Americas and other endemic regions.
In addition, the first local mosquito-transmitted Zika virus disease cases were reported in Europe in 2019, and Zika virus outbreak activity was detected in India in 2021. (1)
The virus quickly spread to the American continent, and outbreaks occurred in 33 countries. (3) To date, a total of 89 countries and territories have reported Zika infections.
Symptoms Indicative of Zika Virus Disease
The symptoms of Zika virus disease can occur anywhere from 3 to 14 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. The majority of people infected with the Zika virus do not develop symptoms. (1)
Symptoms are generally mild including fever, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, weakness, and headache, which usually last for 2–7 days.
Diagnosis of Zika Virus Disease
Two diagnostic tests are currently being used. One is an RT-PCR-based diagnostic test, which tests for the presence of viral genetic material. This test is useful only during an active infection and is useless once the body clears the infection.
The other test is an immunoassay, which uses the patient’s blood sample to measure a type of protein called an antibody, produced by the immune system of the patient. But this test is not foolproof since it exhibits cross-reactivity with other infections such as dengue fever. (3)
Preventive Tips Against Zika Virus Infection
There are no antivirals available for the treatment of Zika virus infection, and most people with symptoms take over-the-counter medications for aches and pains till the disease usually runs its course. (4)
Like in all cases of infectious diseases, doctors recommend infected people get plenty of rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration, and take acetaminophen for fever and pain. (4)
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are not recommended. These drugs should be avoided until dengue virus infections are ruled out because of bleeding risk.
Efforts are underway to develop a vaccine for Zika virus, but at present, no vaccine is available. Hence, prevention of the disease is the best option available.
The following preventive tips are recommended: (1)
- Keep away from mosquitoes, and control their breeding by keeping the surroundings clean and preventing water from stagnating.
- Keep yourself fully clothed, especially covering your limbs, to prevent mosquito bites. Use mosquito repellant creams, and spray mosquito repellants as air fresheners.
- Avoid going to the swimming pool as these are breeding sites for mosquitoes.
- Avoid being outdoors during the daytime since that is when the mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus are active.
- Use a mosquito net for your bed both at home and during outdoor travel.
- When traveling with infants and toddlers, ensure that they are fully covered and sleep under a mosquito net in the crib/stroller.
- Pregnant women and women planning to have a baby should cover themselves fully and sleep under a mosquito net when traveling to Zika virus-infected areas. Avoid traveling to Zika virus-infected areas, if possible.
Herbal Remedies for Zika Virus Infection
Try the following herbal and natural remedies to steer clear of the Zika virus infection.
- Berberine – It is a chemical found in some plants such as European barberry, Oregon grape, Phellodendron, and tree turmeric.
- Emodin – It is a chemical found in the sap of many plants such as Aloe vera. Emodin is also produced by certain fungi of the genera Aspergillus, Pyrenochaeta, and Pestalotiopsis. Both berberine and emodin can be extracted as tea by boiling the stem or leaves of the plant with water and straining the extract to obtain a concentrate, which you can consume as such or after sweetening it with honey.
- Hippeastrine hydrobromide – It is from the medicinal plant red spider lily (Lycoris radiata). One study observed that this compound blocked Zika infection in human fetal brain cells and eliminated pre-existing infections. (6)
Regular consumption of herbs such as basil, garlic, and turmeric, which have antiviral properties, can boost immunity and help in protecting against Zika virus infection.
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum): Recent research reported in Acta Virologica in 2019 has shown that extracts prepared from the leaves of basil prevent the entry of the Zika virus into cells, thus effectively preventing infection. (7) You can take basil in the form of tea. Boil some basil leaves in water, strain the water, and drink the tea as such or after sweetening it with honey.
- Garlic (Allium sativum): Garlic oil is an effective biopesticide against the mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) that transmit the Zika virus, according to a study reported in 2022 in the journal Industrial Crops and Products. (8) Thus, garlic is effective in preventing and controlling Zika virus infection.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which inhibits the entry of Zika virus into the cells, according to a study reported in Antiviral Research in 2017. (9) Add turmeric powder to your soups and curries.
Homeopathic medicines such as Eupatorium perfoliatum, Rhus tox, and Atropa belladonna may be utilized for Zika virus infection treatment. Ayurvedic herbs such as Tinospora cordifolia might also be effective in treating Zika virus infection. (10)
Complications of Zika Virus Disease
Zika virus infection in pregnant women causes microcephaly (reduction in the brain size) and other congenital abnormalities in the developing fetus and newborn. (11) Other complications include preterm birth, stillbirth, conjunctivitis in the newborn, and miscarriage.
In children and adults, Zika virus infection can trigger neuropathy, eye diseases, muscle weakness, and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is an autoimmune disorder of the nerves that causes reduced nerve impulse transmissions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. (12)
The only way to completely prevent Zika virus infection during pregnancy is not to travel to areas with risks of Zika virus infection and to use precautions or avoid sex with someone who has recently traveled to a risk area.
Most-Asked Questions About the Zika Virus Infection
How is Zika virus infection treated naturally?
Not much information is available on natural remedies for Zika virus. However, you can use immunity boosters and some herbs such as ginger, turmeric, and garlic to prevent Zika virus infection.
Are vitamins recommended for Zika virus infection?
Can Zika virus be passed from mother to fetus?
Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus and importantly through unprotected sex also. Women living in high-risk zone countries must carefully plan their pregnancy. India is considered a risk country, although not high risk.
The risk of birth defects by Zika virus infection in pregnancy is unknown, but an estimated 5%–15% of infected infants with Zika virus have complications. There are also possibilities that Zika virus infection in the fetus can be symptomatic or nonsymptomatic.
In recent years, Zika virus has emerged as a severe global threat. The absence of any structured treatment methods and an effective vaccine adds to the danger posed by this organism.
The rapid spread of Zika virus infection can be controlled by mosquito control using insecticides and larvicides. Moreover, the use of proper protective clothing to avoid mosquito bites can reduce the risk of infection.