By now you’ve most likely heard of the Zika virus and how it’s spreading rapidly in the Americas. Even if your odds of contracting Zika are low, it’s wise to understand the risks and warning signs in order to keep yourself and your family safe.
What exactly is Zika virus?
First identified in Uganda in 1974, Zika is transmitted by the same mosquito that carries dengue fever and yellow fever. Outbreaks were initially confined to Africa, but in 2007 Zika spread to the South Pacific.
How do you contract Zika?
A mosquito bites an infected person, then passes the virus on to the next person it bites. The Zika virus can also, on occasion, be transmitted via sexual contact or blood transfusions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has received 15 reports of possible transmission of Zika through sexual activity. This means that a person traveled to an area where Zika was present, contracted the virus, then returned and gave it to a partner who didn’t have the virus.
What are the symptoms of Zika?
Symptoms of Zika virus can include fever, joint pain, rash, and redness in the whites of the eyes. However, only about 1 in 5 people show symptoms. The majority of those with Zika don’t know they have it. Fortunately, the virus rarely causes serious complications and it doesn’t take the body long to defeat it.
How is Zika virus treated?
Right now, there’s no treatment for Zika. Most people with symptoms find relief in over-the-counter medications for aches and pains. After about a week or so, the virus dissipates and resolves.
How can Zika affect pregnant women and babies?
It’s been confirmed that Zika virus causes microcephaly and other congenital birth defects. Microcephaly stunts the growth of a baby’s head and causes severe, sometimes-fatal brain damage. It can also lead to miscarriage or still birth.
It also appears that Zika-related cases of microcephaly and birth defects are more severe than non-Zika-related cases. However, not all babies born to mothers with Zika have babies with birth defects. At this point, it’s not known if the stage of pregnancy at the time of infection has an effect on the risk or results.
Will it come to the U.S.?
The short answer is yes—probably. However, it’s unlikely to spread as much as it has in other countries, largely because we aren’t exposed to mosquitos as much as people in Latin America and the Caribbean.
How can I protect myself?
Try to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos. Wear long sleeves and long pants when outside, use mosquito repellant, and remove any standing water around your house and community. It’s especially important that pregnant women not get bitten by mosquitos. The CDC has warned women about traveling to the 40 countries and territories
where Zika is present. Pregnant women are also advised not to attend the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil.
The CDC also recommends that men who have traveled to or lived in areas with Zika infections and have a sex partner who is pregnant use condoms or abstain from sexual activity during her pregnancy.
Awareness and caution are key
If you have questions or concerns, or think you may have been exposed to Zika, your local urgent care center is a good first stop. The doctors and nurses there should be prepared to address your concerns and conduct the proper tests.
Knowing how Zika is (and isn’t) contracted and transmitted is the first step to protecting yourself. The virus seems scary, but with proper education and precautions, the risks of contracting it and passing it on to a developing fetus are still very low. Talk to your medical professional or primary care doctor if you continue to have doubts or concerns about the Zika virus.