Should you worry about the Zika virus?
Living in Southeastern North Carolina we don’t have a direct risk of the Zika virus…yet.
What do we know about the Zika virus?
- It’s transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
- It has spread to at least 29 countries including the U.S.
- It is connected to microcephaly (left), a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads and severe developmental issues, and sometimes death.
About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill (excluding the unborn children who can develop microcephaly).
The World Health Organization estimates that 3 million to 4 million people across the Americas will be infected with the virus in the next year. Those are staggering numbers.
How is Zika spread?
The Zika virus, transmitted by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito, has spread to at least 29 countries. WHO estimates 3 million to 4 million people across the Americas will be infected with the virus in the next year. “As long as the mosquito keeps reproducing, each and every one of us is losing the battle against the mosquito,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said recently. “We have to mobilize so we do not lose this battle.”
Last week, the CDC reported the first case of locally acquired Zika virus in the United States , but it was not from a mosquito bite. Instead it was passed via sex. In this particular case, the female patient had not traveled, but instead had sex with someone who had recently returned from Venezuela and who was infected with the mosquito-borne virus.
“There have been isolated cases of Zika spread through blood transfusion or sexual contact and that’s not very surprising,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “The virus is in the blood for about a week. How long it would remain in the semen is something that needs to be studied, and we’re working on that now.”
What are the symptoms and how long does it last?
- The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes).
- Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.
- The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
- People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika.
- Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week but it can be found longer in some people.
What are the next steps?
If mosquitoes in the United States do become carriers, a model created by Toronto researchers found more than 63% of the U.S. population lives in areas where Zika virus might spread during seasonally warm months. A little more than 7% of Americans live in areas where the cold might not kill off the mosquito in the winter, leaving them vulnerable year-round.
If you have traveled to Central or South America and begin exhibiting symptoms of Zika, go to the doctor. Be sure to tell him or her if you have traveled to a location where Zike is known to be found. Special bloodwork may be required to determine if you have the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning pregnant women against travel to those areas; health officials in several of those countries are telling women to avoid pregnancy — in some cases for up to two years.
The U.S. Defense Department is offering voluntary relocation to pregnant employees and their beneficiaries who are stationed in affected areas.
Researchers are hard at work in laboratories around the world trying to create a Zika vaccine. Hopefully, a clinical trial for a Zika virus vaccine could begin this year, but it may be a few years before we have a vaccine.
Health officials are implementing traditional mosquito control techniques such as spraying pesticides and emptying standing water receptacles where mosquitoes breed. The CDC encourages homeowners, hotel owners and visitors to countries with Zika outbreaks also to eliminate any standing water they see, such as in outdoor buckets and flowerpots.
How do you treat Zika?
- There is no vaccine to prevent or specific medicine to treat Zika infections.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Take medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) to relieve fever and pain.
- Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.
- If you have Zika, prevent mosquito bites for the first week of your illness.
- During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites.
- An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.
Sources: CDC and CNN