Zika is a virus of the Flaviviridae family that is transmitted by the Aedes
mosquito. It has been likened to the Dengue and West Nile viruses which are both contracted from the same type of mosquito.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), the first documented human case of Zika was in Uganda in 1952. There have been various outbreaks since in over 20 countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia. The virus has reached epidemic levels in certain countries like Brazil but has been fairly well contained in North America. There have been over 1400 documented cases
of Zika in the United States however, none of them were contracted locally, only by those who had recently traveled to highly infectious areas such as Brazil. It is estimated that 15 of those cases were transmitted sexually.
Luckily, Zika is not known to be a deadly virus. Only about one fifth of people who contract Zika will exhibit any symptoms at all, and symptoms that are present are generally mild, lasting for about a week. These include low-grade fever, rash, mild joint and muscle pain and headache. There has been a form of temporary paralysis called Guillain-Barré
syndrome associated with Zika as well, but it is quite rare and can most often be cured.
Why Pregnant Women Should be Particularly Cautious
The worst suspected complication of Zika concerns pregnant women. Medical researchers have established a connection between Zika and the rise of a previously rare fetal neurodevelopmental disorder called Microcephaly
. Babies born with Microcephaly have a smaller, deformed skull and often have cognitive impairment due to underdeveloped brains. The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a travel alert to pregnant women not to visit highly infectious areas such as parts of Brazil until the epidemic begins to subside or a vaccine becomes available.
What are Authorities Doing About the Issue?
According to the World Health Organization
(WHO), aside from working to develop a Zika vaccine, experts are:
- Prioritizing Zika research
- Bettering laboratories across the world to detect and handle the virus
- Enhancing surveillance of Zika outbreaks and potential complications
- Working to control Aedes mosquito populations
- Preparing clinical follow-up care for those infected with the virus.
How to Protect Yourself From Zika
As with any mosquito-carried virus the number one preventative measure is avoiding mosquito bites especially when traveling to highly infectious areas. The World Health Organization (WHO
) advises people to:
- Use insect repellant
- wear covering clothing
- sleep in tents with screens, or under mosquito nets
- cover containers that hold fluids such as flower pots
Those who fall under the immunocompromised category should be especially cautious as they are more susceptible to contracting any virus.
There is no vaccine
developed yet for Zika but medical scientists are working avidly to change that. Authorities predict that it may be a year or two before a vaccine is available to the public. Infected people rarely require hospitalization, and can usually overcome the virus with plenty of bedrest, fluids and acetaminophen-based OTC pain relievers. However, it is important to contain the spread of Zika, so if you have flu-like symptoms, you should consult your doctor (or one of our highly skilled EMC physicians) for further testing, advice and treatment.
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