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The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Zika Virus (also known as Zika Fever) a global health emergency. The virus was first discovered in the 1940s in Uganda, Africa. Since then, cases have been found in warm climates, but this current outbreak is much more widespread with a few cases even popping in areas of the United States (All confirmed cases in the United States as of the writing of this article were seen in women who had traveled to affected regions). Does that mean you should be scared of the coming warm weather? Should you be scared to get pregnant? A lot depends on where you live and where you travel to. It’s hard to say at this point if that will remain the case or if the virus will begin to be spread by the mosquitos in the United States; however, it appears it is definitely something to take seriously and take precautions against, especially if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
Updates on the Zika Virus
- This test concludes that the microcephaly epidemic is a result of Zika.
- Zika continues to spread across the U.S., with 13 confirmed cases in Arkansas.
- Zika virus is linked to hearing loss in babies.
- Tampa firefighter is confirmed to have first locally-transmitted case of Zika virus in Pinellas County.
- Grapefruit may repel mosquitos that transmit the Zika virus.
- It is reported that 4 people in Ireland have tested positive for the Zika virus.
- It is estimated that between three and 37 people out of a possible 500,000 visiting Brazil for the Rio Olympics would be infected with Zika.
- The CDC said 234 pregnant women in the United States have been diagnosed with the Zika virus.
- Three babies born in the U.S.A. with birth defects that may be linked to the Zika virus. Three others have been miscarried or aborted.
- Most people who get Zika don’t know because no symptoms appear.
- Latin America and the Caribbean have had the highest reports of the Zika virus and are even being asked to not procreate.
What is Zika?
The video below from the Wall Street Journal has information regarding what is currently known about the Zika virus.
Transmission of the Zika Virus
The cause of the Zika Virus is simple: a mosquito that carries the virus bites you. We have loads of mosquitos throughout the United States; however, so far, the only infected mosquitos have been found in warm, tropical climates. All of the infected mosquitos have been “Aedes” mosquitos, which are not found in the United States. Every case in the United States, thus far, has been in women who have traveled to affected countries like Colombia or Brazil. The difference between the disease now vs. in past cases is that the disease has now seen outbreaks in 13 different countries in 2015/2016, indicating that it is spreading at an alarming rate. Perhaps even more alarming is that there have been 2 confirmed cases of the disease being sexually transmitted, which suggests that it can be spread by blood. It’s also clear that if a pregnant woman contracts Zika, it is often spread to her fetus causing birth defects such as microcephaly.
Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment of the Zika Virus
The incubation period of the Zika Virus appears to be a few days from bite to symptoms. Symptoms are usually mild, so they may be easy to write off, especially if you’ve been traveling to a foreign region. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, muscle and joint soreness, conjunctivitis (pink eye), rashes, and headache. Many of these symptoms are similar to what is known as “Jet Lag” or simply the body adjusting to different food and water. However, evidence is growing which correlates neurological effects, which in an adult, are mild and likely not noticeable, with the virus.
If passed to a fetus in utero, it can cause severe brain growth restriction (microcephaly) in a developing fetus of infected women. This condition, while not typically fatal, causes the brain to develop at a slow rate during fetal development, resulting in an abnormally small head. There is not currently enough information for the link to be conclusive, however it is certainly something to consider if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. There is currently no cure for this virus. You can treat the symptoms by doing the following:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Take fever reducing over the counter medicines such as acetaminophen.
- Do NOT take NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen) to reduce the risk of hemorrhage.
- Avoid further mosquito bites as this will pass the virus to another mosquito, which could pass it on to another person.
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According to the CDC, because no vaccine exists at this point, the best prevention method is to not travel to affected regions. If you live in, or must travel to areas that are affected by the Zika virus, there are precautions you should take to avoid transmission. Wear long sleeves and long pants to limit skin exposure. Cover all beds, strollers, or carriers with mosquito netting. Use EPA approved insect repellents (The CDC does not recommend use on children under 2 years of age.) and reapply as directed. The virus is contagious by blood (not airborne) for the first week after transmission. Because there have been a few cases of human to human transmission, avoid any exchange of bodily fluids for at least a week after diagnosis.
How Does Zika Affect Me?
In short, if you live in a non-affected country and are not pregnant, chances are, it doesn’t affect you beyond humanitarian concerns for your fellow man. However, if you live in, or travel to, affected countries the WHO is recommending you do not plan to become pregnant until 2018. It has quickly become a high priority to develop treatment and/or a vaccine to prevent spreading the virus to unborn children. The increased prevalence is certainly alarming and should be closely monitored. Hopefully the road to a vaccine isn’t a long one so that pregnant women can be treated before symptoms occur, preventing transmission to the fetus.
How do you plan to keep mosquitos away this year?