SINGAPORE has hundreds of cases and increasing by the day, so much so that many countries have issued travel advisory to their citizens. The Philippines has just recorded its 6th diagnosed Zika case, a 45 year old woman from Iloilo, who has not travelled to any of the countries with Zika. Of course, this alarming news fired to white heat the determination of our Department of Health to investigate; sending a team of doctors to follow up possible contacts of the woman and try to stem the tide of more Zika infections in the Philippines.

First identified in a monkey in Uganda in 1947, the Zika virus was not considered a source of major illness in humans until recently. However, when Zika reached the Americas in 2015 and spread explosively to at least 62 countries, some countries particularly Brazil have reported unusual neurological signs and symptoms attributed to the Zika virus.

The Zika virus is usually transmitted to humans thru the bite of the female infected Aedes aegypti, the same mosquito that also transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Later, it was found out that Zika may also be transmitted thru sexual contact. Symptoms include fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis or sore eyes, muscle and joint pains, malaise and headache which normally last for 2-7 days. There is no specific treatment but symptoms could be normally mild and can be treated with analgesics and antipyretics- fever, rest and drinking plenty of fluid on top of balanced diet.

The main fear around Zika is the suspicion that pregnant women who are infected with Zika could give birth to babies with microcephaly- where the brain and the head of the baby do not develop normally and stop growing after birth- as well as other congenital abnormalities. Health workers have also noted another suspected nerve complication, this time in adults- the LGB or Landry Guillain Barre syndrome-. This is usually a rare condition in which the immune system is triggered by something like a viral illness to attack their peripheral nerves, which in some patients could lead to partial or total paralysis, and worse, inability to breathe. With good supportive care in well-equipped hospitals, most people will make a complete recovery from Guillain Barre Syndrome but the care needs put a huge burden on the hospital system if there are many cases.

Responding to concerns about the spread of Zika and its potential consequences and complications, as early as February 1 2016, the World Health Organization declared the clusters of microcephaly and other neurological disorders in Brazil a Public health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). WHO further recommended enhanced surveillance and research and aggressive measures to reduce infection with the Zika virus.

A good example is the advice given to both male and females. If a man is diagnosed to be infected, he should use condom if he makes love with his wife; same with a woman infected, she should avoid getting pregnant for at least 6 months from the time of diagnosis.

Of course, let us not forget the paramount importance of vector control.

The Aedes mosquito can lay eggs in the tiniest amount of water and can even survive on the sides of containers without water for months so cleanliness of the surroundings plus a concerted community effort to get rid of all collected water from the rain. And practical and sensible protective measures like wearing loose long sleeve apparel and pants especially when going outside the house, lotions and creams or sprays that ward off mosquitoes.

There is a race among pharmaceutical firms to come up with a vaccine, like the recently approved Dengvaxia for dengue. Meanwhile, let us do everything we can, in our personal way as well as in conjunction with our local barangays, to prevent the spread of Zika. Zika ngay, how can you help?