The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, has raised the alarm that the dreaded Zika virus is widely circulating in Nigeria, This Day reports.
This was disclosed by the Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu.
He said that contrary to widespread belief of Nigerians that Zika virus is an American and Asian health challenge, the virus is already spreading rapidly in the country.
Ihekweazu further lamented that there was the absence of continued surveillance or periodic national surveys, with the epidemiology of the virus still poorly understood in the country.
Though an uncommon disease, it is not strange to Nigeria and Africa at large. In 1960, the country experienced the first human case of the virus, according to WHO records; that is 27 years after it was first documented in monkeys in Uganda, an East African country, known to be a breeding region for mosquitoes, just like Nigeria.
But the world did not take the 76 years old virus seriously because its outbreaks were sporadic and tiny, and the disease seemed to do little harm to humans, until recently with its recent manifestation in South America and Asia, starting with birth deformities in newborn, among other clinical features.
The virus is a disease transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedesaegypti mosquito – the same mosquito strain that causes dengue and other tropical diseases. Experts described it as a strain with white markings on its legs and a marking in the form of a lyre on the upper surface of the thorax. The average wing length of female Aedesaegypti mosquitoes varies greatly between 1.67– 3.83 mm in Peruvian habitat.
According to Ihekweazu, “Previous evidence of detection of Zika virus in man, and antibodies to Zika virus in Nigerian populations, together with the presence of the vectors indicate that the virus is widely circulated in Nigeria, adding that the majority of those infected with the virus remain asymptomatic and for those who develop symptoms, such as, fever, rash, conjunctivitis, headaches, muscle and joint pains, it typically start three to six days after infection.
“The virus might stay in the body for weeks following infection,” he said.
He noted that current epidemiology of Zika in Nigeria has not been well documented or understood due to paucity of recent data, adding that the virus shares a similar vector, the Aedes (Steogmyia) mosquitoes, also responsible for other flavivirus infections recorded in the country, such as yellow fever and dengue.
“The environmental and human behavioural risk factors in areas with reported Zika outbreaks were similar to those found in Nigeria and would thus favour the circulation of Zika virus,” Ihekweazu said.
“Possible cross-reaction with other endemic flaviviruses like yellow fever and dengue; genetic host factors protecting against infection or disease; low vector competence and transmission efficiency; lack of diagnostic testing; and the absence of systematic surveillance are potential limitations to detect on-going transmission of Zika in the country.”
Concluding the CEO said all countries with presence of Aedes (Steogmyia) albopictus and Aedes (Steogmyia) aegypti mosquitoes are at risk of sustained transmission and human activity aids the spread of the virus to locations far beyond the normal range for the vector.
He explained that in the light of the review, NCDC plans to initiate surveillance to understand and monitor the epidemiology of the virus in the country for appropriate interventions.
Reacting to the revelation that Nigeria was greatly at risk of the scourge, a virologist, Dr. Alabi Shogunle, said the devastation being presently experienced in Brazil and neigbouring countries should be enough to push Nigeria to guide jealously against the virus in the country.
While explaining that prevention was possible, he called on Nigerians to avoid mosquito bites through keeping their environments free from logged waters, adding that since the country was a tropical region where mosquitoes were common, there was need for the use of insecticide treated nets in all homes. “This will be about a two way benefit; preventing Zika virus, as well as malaria,” which he stressed were products of mosquito bites.
He said Zika virus could be passed through sexual intercourse, hence, “the consequences of unfaithfulness cannot be limited to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, but also to Zika virus. Those who can’t stick to one faithful partner should always use condon or abstain,” he added.
While warning that those going to Zika virus endemic countries should be cautious of activities that could put them at risk of the disease, he said the country should ensure precautionary measures activated during the Ebola virus outbreak in the country were put back in place.
On the symptoms, he said even though it is largely assymptomatic, in the rare case of presentation, symptoms include fever, joint pain, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, headache, adding that the amount of time the symptoms last depends on the severity of the infection. “Traditionally, when symptoms like these are noticed, it is important to see a doctor, who will diagnose and treat appropriately,” he said.
“People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realise they have been infected. Symptoms of Zika are similar to other viruses spread through mosquito bites, like dengue and chikungunya.”
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