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Spread of Zika virus leads to new warnings about sharps safety

April 27, 2016

New warnings regarding sharps safety and needlestick injuries have been issued in light of the ongoing spread of the blood-borne Zika virus.

The disease is transmitted via mosquito bites and has been linked to an increase in the number of cases of microcephaly recorded around the world. Microcephaly is an underdevelopment of the skull and brain and has been proven to be linked to Zika, meaning the condition is especially dangerous to pregnant women or those who are trying to conceive.

The spread of the Zika virus

The current outbreak of the Zika virus began in South America, with the majority of cases recorded in Brazil.

During 2014, fewer than 150 diagnoses of microcephaly were made in the country, but since October 2015, more than 4,700 cases have been reported throughout Brazil. Of these, 404 had been confirmed by the start of April 2016, while 3,670 were still being investigated, according to statistics from the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

Extensive tests have linked this rise in microcephaly to the spread of the Zika virus. Even though the symptoms of the illness usually only last for between two and seven days, the infection can remain in the blood for many months, meaning it could lead to complications in pregnancy, preventing normal foetal development. Symptoms typically include a fever, pain in the joints and muscles, headaches, conjunctivitis and a red rash.

There are concerns that the Zika virus will spread even further throughout Southern and Central America with the Summer Olympic Games set to take place in Rio de Janeiro later this year. An influx of travellers to the region could see the disease spreading more easily if preventative measures are not taken.

Preventing the spread of Zika

Dr Dipti Patel, director of the UK's National Travel Health Network and Centre, commented: "We strongly advise all travellers to avoid mosquito bites and recommend that pregnant women should postpone non-essential travel to areas where Zika virus outbreaks are ongoing until after their pregnancy.

"If travel is unavoidable, or they live in areas where active Zika virus transmission is reported, they should take scrupulous insect bite avoidance measures both during daytime and nighttime hours and also seek advice from their GP, midwife or obstetrician."

Research has also emerged that suggests Zika may be spread via sexual intercourse, so it is recommended that those showing potential signs of the virus seek professional medical advice as soon as possible, and to abstain from any sexual contact in the meantime.

The mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus are not native to the UK, meaning people in the country should be relatively safe from the disease, unless they exchange bodily fluids with someone who is carrying the virus themselves.

Sharps safety warnings

Another way that Zika can potentially be spread is via a sharps injury from a contaminated needle.

Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals treating patients with the virus need to ensure they are demonstrating the highest possible standards of hygiene and safety to prevent a needlestick injury from occurring to keep both themselves and the patient protected against this potentially devastating disease. This also helps to safeguard them against other blood-borne infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C.

Pregnant healthcare workers or those who are trying to conceive need to be especially careful to limit their risk of giving birth to a child with microcephaly.

Image: bodym via iStock

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