The Zika virus epidemic which has ravaged parts of Brazil has been identified on the African island nation of Cape Verde. Experts believe the strain of the virus was ‘imported’ from South America.
The Zika virus is however no stranger to Africa where in-fact, it was first discovered in 1947.
The virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected andes mosquito and can also be transmitted via most bodily fluids, thus mother to child transmission, blood transfusion and sexual contact are other important modes of transmission.
Initially thought to cause only mild symptoms of fever and skin rash, it is now widely accepted that infections in pregnant mothers can lead to microcephaly, a congenital malformation resulting in unusually small sized heads and developmental challenges in babies.
Brazil alone has an estimated 1300 confirmed cases of microcephaly. Cape Verde already has 3 confirmed cases so far.
The Zika virus has also come to be associated with the Guillian-Barre syndrome, a neurological condition that could result in a serious form of paralysis in adults.
Clinical diagnosis for the virus is often possible only after a series of blood tests. There is no cure for the Zika virus and modern scientific endeavours have yielded little in terms of a potent vaccine.
It remains to be seen how the authorities in Cape Verde and the rest of the Africa, with its challenges of weak institutions and poor crisis response, handle this problem. However, WHO’s Africa Director Matshidiso Moeti maintains that information about the virus is key:
The findings are of concern because it is further proof that the outbreak is spreading beyond South America and is on the doorstep of Africa. This information will help African countries to re-evaluate their level of risk and adapt and increase their levels of preparedness, she said.
But if the initiative and commendable response demonstrated during the last Ebola crisis is anything to go by, the continent is ready to combat this.