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Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

Zika virus has become something of a buzzword (no pun intended) in the news these days. Thismosquito-borne illness is spread primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, and has been found to cause a variety of symptoms ranging from mild headaches to neurological birth defects.

And as with prevention of any disease, knowledge is power, and although there is still much to be learned about Zika virus, an abundance of research is currently underway. Read on to learn how Zika has grown into a global epidemic and how you can stay protected.

VIRUS EVOLUTION & GROWTH

Named after the forest in Uganda where it was first discovered in 1947, Zika virus has continued to spread across multiple continents and countries, including South and Central America, the UK, the US, and Germany. The virus was initially thought to be relatively mild and short-lived, but has since become more ubiquitous and more of a direct threat.

Prior to 2015, Zika virus outbreaks were limited to Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands; however, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil in May of last year.

And there’s no doubt that Zika virus is continuing to spread, as reports of the first cases in America were announced in the past month. The Alabama Department of Public Health confirmed a travel-related case of Zika virus from a resident of Morgan County, Alabama. There have also been three reported cases in New York, including one from Queens, one from Nassau County, and one from Orange County. All three had been traveling to places outside the United States where the virus had been spreading.  

There is much speculation about additional positive cases due to the frequency of international travel to these affected areas, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have deemed the virus to be a Level 2 Alert, meaning travelers should follow enhanced precautions for destinations where the virus is present.

Zika virus has a possible association with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a potentially-debilitating disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack part of the peripheral nervous system. GBS can result in weakness or tingling sensations in the body’s extremeties, and, in severe cases, can cause paralysis.

In such extreme cases, the disease can be potentially life-threatening, as it can interfere with breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate; however, those who have exhibited such severe conditions have had immediate access to medical care, yielding speedy recoveries.

ZIKA VIRUS SYMPTOMS

About one in five people infected with the Zika virus become ill. In most cases, the illness is mild, and people generally aren’t sick enough to go to the hospital. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint or muscle pain, headache, or conjunctivitis (pink eye).  Although the incubation period for the virus isn’t currently known, the virus is known to remain in the blood of an infected person for about a week.

If you’ve developed any of the aforementioned symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider, especially if you have recently visited any of the areas where the virus has been found. Your healthcare provider can order specialized blood tests to check for signs of infection.

ZIKA VIRUS TREATMENT

Unfortunately, there is currently no known vaccine or cure for Zika virus; however, if you are exhibiting any of the aforementioned symptoms, the best course of action is to treat those symptoms. Make sure to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) if you experience fever or pain.

If you are officially diagnosed with Zika, you’ll want to prevent mosquito bites during the first week of your illness, since Zika can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites.

Pregnant women who contract the virus are at the highest risk, since the virus has been linked with neurological birth defects, such as microcephaly, which causes children to be born with abnormally small brains. There is also the risk of other neurological syndromes in babies which can lead to paralysis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise pregnant women to postpone traveling to areas with active Zika virus transmission.

But even if you’re not a pregnant woman, it’s advisable to avoid traveling to infected areas if you can. You should also keep the lines of communication open with your healthcare professional should you exhibit any symptoms, or contact a pest control specialist if you notice a mosquito infestation in your home.