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What You Need To Know About The Zika Virus

By Ruchel Louis Coetzee
Posted On Jul 05, 2016
What You Need To Know About The Zika Virus

The Zika virus is transmitted by day-time active mosquitos from the same family as yellow fever, west Nile virus and dengue fever. Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eye). According to the CDC, the illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. The Zika virus normally remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days but it can last longer in some people. The only way the Zika virus can spread is if an infected person gets bitten by another mosquito and that now infected mosquito attacks another person. Just recently, there were reports that the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted but these results are still pending.

At the moment, the Zika virus alarm is centered on pregnant women, as the virus has been suspected for the birth defect microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with an abnormally small head. Presently, there is no vaccine to prevent infection or medicine to treat Zika virus, however President Obama has called for swift action, including better diagnostic tests as well as the development of vaccines and treatments.

How likely are you to be infected by the Zika virus? 

According to the World Health Organization, the Zika virus is “spreading explosively” in the Americas where 23 countries and territories have reported cases. The country hardest hit right now is Brazil, where cases of microcephaly have increased from 163 a year on average to more than 3,718 suspected cases since the outbreak. The Zika virus was first discovered by scientists in 1947 while they were researching yellow fever in a caged monkey in the Zika Forest in Uganda. This virus was more or less isolated until 2007, when confirmed cases of Zika virus began to surface in Africa and Southeast Asia. However, it is only since April 2015, when a large outbreak of Zika virus began spreading in Brazil and much of South America and the Caribbean that alarm bells were sounded. Governments in these areas have begun urging women to delay becoming pregnant, or, if pregnant, to consult their doctor before traveling. US officials have also warned pregnant women not to travel to these areas at the moment. This is all very disconcerting to the Brazilian authorities with the Summer Olympics around the corner.

How to prevent being attacked?

When outdoors spray yourself liberally with insect repellant that contains more than 20% DEET. According to the CDC, it is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to use an EPA registered insect repellant – just follow the directions. Steps to avoid being attacked include wearing thick long pants, shirt, hat and socks while outdoors and try and stay inside in air-conditioned rooms as often as possible. Avoid walking in bushy areas with high grass – stay in the middle of walking trails. If attacked, avoid scratching the bite. Instead, apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to reduce the itching.

If pregnant while visiting these countries, it is advisable to tell your doctor on your return. Remember that the Zika virus usually remains for a week in the blood.  The Zika virus does not pose any threat to future pregnancies once cleared from the blood according to the CDC. The CDC also does not recommend routine Zika virus testing in pregnant women who have traveled to a country with known transmission – first, there can be false-positive results due to antibodies that are made against other related viruses, second, we do not know the risk to the fetus if the mother tests positive for Zika virus antibodies and we also do not know the risk is different in mothers who do or do not have symptoms due to the Zika virus infection.

As the old saying goes – prevention is better than cure. This goes for any mosquito anywhere in the world.