Ahead of the new course Preventing the Zika Virus: Understanding and Controlling the Aedes Mosquito, Dr James Logan, the lead educator and senior lecturer at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, answers some key questions about Zika - including what’s being done in preparation for the Olympics.
Ahead of the new course Preventing the Zika Virus: Understanding and Controlling the Aedes Mosquito, Dr James Logan, the lead educator and senior lecturer at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, answers some key questions about Zika – including what’s being done in preparation for the Olympics.
Why create an online course about Zika?
Did you know that mosquitoes that transmit the Zika virus bite us during the day? If you didn’t, don’t worry. Many people associate mosquitoes with the night. We’ve put together this free online course to give people all across the world a chance to learn about the Zika virus, enabling them to understand how it has become a global concern and what tools are available to control it.
Zika was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization in February this year, and it took us by surprise. Since then, public health professionals and authorities across the globe have been working to work out the best way to tackle the current outbreak and to provide the right advice to the public. The majority of people (80%) that become infected do not show any symptoms, while for others infection is characterised by a fever and rash. Other common symptoms include muscle pain, joint pain, headache, pain behind the eyes, and conjunctivitis. There is also the greater threat of microcephaly in babies and Guillain–Barré syndrome in adults.
Some of the brightest minds in science have now come together to better understand the spread of the disease, develop better diagnostic tests, vaccines, and treatments, and identify and evaluate more effective ways to control Aedes mosquitoes, the insects that transmit the disease. But it’s no easy task. The virus and disease are relatively new to the realms of public health and science and there are many, many things we don’t yet know.
That’s why we teamed up with FutureLearn to enable everyone to learn about the science behind the outbreak: where did Zika came from, what are the symptoms, how are families affected, and how can we stop it? With plenty of insightful interviews from the world’s leading Zika experts, the course tackles the disease head on, providing learners with essential information about transmission and control methods, whilst identifying the many gaps in our knowledge and what the future holds for both the current outbreak and the rest of the world.
This is also an international course, open to anyone, anywhere, and material is also available in Spanish and Portuguese. This is not only an opportunity to learn about the Zika virus and current outbreak, but a chance for people from all over the world to share their experiences, insights, and knowledge of Zika.
What is the Zika virus and where has it come from?
Zika is a flavivirus that is closely related to dengue, a virus which causes over 100 million infections each year. First identified in Uganda in 1947, Zika is now endemic in parts of Africa and Asia, with cases in the South Pacific prior to its arrival and rapid spread in the Americas in 2015.
The majority of infections are transmitted by mosquitoes, but cases of sexual transmission have also been reported. Parts of Latin America offer fertile environments for mosquitoes, including Aedes, which is capable of transmitting Zika.
How can I avoid becoming infected with Zika and how would I know if I had it?
The best way to avoid becoming infected is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. If you are in a high risk area you should take basic precautions, such as using repellents, wearing light coloured, long sleeved shirts and trousers, and ensuring that rooms are equipped with sealed windows and doors or screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering. Health authorities also recommend that women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should avoid sexual contact with men who have visited areas where the Zika virus is transmitted.
Unfortunately there is no vaccine or widely available rapid diagnostic test for Zika and it is difficult to diagnose: it is very similar to dengue and yellow fever viruses so it can cross-react with antibody tests that are available for those viruses. Instead, it may be necessary to send blood samples to a specialist laboratory. Scientists are working on better ways to prevent and detect the disease. Read more guidance about Zika.
What treatments are available if I become infected?
No specific treatment has been developed for the Zika virus disease. Currently, treatment is targeted towards relieving the symptoms of infections and includes using anti-pyretics to reduce fever and analgesics to relieve pain. It is worth remembering that the majority of people who get the disease do not have any symptoms.
What’s being done about Zika and the Rio olympics?
As Director of arctec, an independent centre focused on insect control technologies based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, I and many others will be working closely with Team GB. Our team will work to promote safe travel for athletes and tourists alike as part of the annual Bug Off! campaign, which aims to raise awareness of insect-borne diseases.
And what will I learn on the Zika course?
You’ll get a more complete picture of the Zika virus and the Aedes mosquito, including where and when it bites you, how it can be monitored and controlled, and what challenges scientists are facing. You will hear from people working on the front line in the fight against the disease, and will be encouraged to make your own contribution by engaging in discussions and asking questions that other learners can address.