Egypt Independent

Is Egypt really Zika free?

Following the uncontrollable outbreak of the Zika virus in South America, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency that has prompted fear in many countries, including Egypt.

Given that the Aedes Aegypti mosquito that can carry the virus is present in the country, it was enough to raise concern over the possible outbreak of the virus in Egypt.

Khalid Megahed, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry, confirmed that a Zika outbreak in Egypt is a “rumor” and Egypt is completely free of the virus.

The Health Ministry initially reported that the mosquito was rare in the country before admitting that it can be found in Upper Egypt. Various researchers confirmed that the Aedes Aegypti mosquito has existed in the country for a while. 

Health Minister Ahmed Emad El-Din Rady said the mosquito that carries the virus can be found in Minya and Assiut provinces, but the Health Ministry has launched a campaign that would use preventitive medicine to eliminate the mosquito population from Egypt.

A study by researcher Heikal Omar El-Bahnasawy in 2011 discussed the emergence of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito in Aswan, which can also carry and transmit the Dengue hemorrhagic fever, yellow fever and Chikungunya fever, diseases that can be found throughout Africa. El-Bahnasaqy said this gives cause for a public health threat.

The study said “mosquitoes are main vectors of varieties of pathogenic agents affecting man and animals.”

In 2012, a study was conducted by researcher Nahla Shoukry from the Zoology Department in the Faculty of Science at Suez Canal University that said the Aedes Aegypti is a demonstrated carrier of diseases worldwide, particularly in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

“These two scientific publications are coming out of Egypt in 2011 and 2012, and they confirm the existence of the mosquito is southern Egypt, so, this is not new,” Islam Hussein, an Egyptian virologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Egypt independent.

Hussein added that Zika antibodies have been reported in Egypt, which means some people have been infected by the virus and mistakenly diagnosed.

The Zika virus is not deadly, according to experts, but the most damaging outcome of the virus can be devastating for pregnant women. Microcephaly, a congenital condition that results in a baby's head being too small due to incomplete brain development, is the primary concern of the infection. The condition can lead to a newborn's death within a few months, giving major cause for concern among pregant women in affected areas.

“The virus was named after the Zika forests in Uganda, and it started to emerge as a threat in 1952 in Nigeria, then it transferred to some countries in Africa and Asia, but nobody paid attention because it wasn’t dangerous,” said Hussein.

Hussein added that the Zika virus disappeared for many years until new cases of infection emerged in 2007 in the pacific islands. In 2013, the Zika popped up on the radar again as more cases were reported, but the late 2015 outbreak, which has most taken place in Brazil, has affected more than a million people.

“The Olympic games will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016, which may increase the spread of the virus due to people gathering from and to the infected regions,” said Hussien.

The Egyptian government stressed that they are taking precautionary measures to prevent an outbreak of the virus.

“We have distributed forms in all of Egypt's ports to let people coming from the infected countries fill them in with personal information and they will be scanned and monitored for during their stay in Egypt as the incubation period lasts from three to 12 days,” Rady(full name?) said on the ‘Ana Masr’ talk show.

Like many countires, the Egyptian government urged pregnant women to avoid infected countries due to the birth defects the virus can cause.

Aside from Microcephaly in newborns of infected mothers, Zika’s primary symptoms are fever, a skin rash, muscle pain, headache and conjunctivitis. There is medication or a vaccine available for the virus, but “the best preventive measure is to stay away from mosquito bites, especially during summer during which mosquitoes spread widely,” said Hussein.