It’s all over the news and with the Olympics coming up in Brazil, the epicenter of the disease, the Zika Virus is on everybody’s mind. What is it, how can you contract it, and what happens if you get it?
According to the CDC the Zika Virus was first discovered in 1947, but few outbreaks of the illness have been reported since that time. This may be due to the fact that it is most commonly noted in tropical underdeveloped regions or because the symptoms of the disease can be very mild. In February 2016 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency of international concern. The first infections were noted in Brazil, as of today infections have been noted in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Pacific Islands. Within the United States 891 infections in 45 states have been documented, non of these contracted locally. This means that it is very unlikely for Zika to be contracted in the United States but certainly travelers outside of the United States are at risk for contracting and bringing the virus home.
The virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This mosquito is not currently found in the United States and this is the reason for the lack of local transmission of the virus. Additionally, and to a lesser extent it can be spread sexually.
The most common symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. The symptoms last from a couple of days to nearly a week after infection and resolve spontaneously. After resolution you typically develop immunity. The biggest concern for Zika infection is in pregnant women where the virus can attack the neural tissue of the fetus resulting in microcephaly or restricted head and sometimes brain growth. Microcephaly can result in: seizures, developmental delay, movement and balance problems, feeding problems, hearing loss and vision problems.
So basically, the Zika virus doesn’t have a big effect on our day to day activity unless you are pregnant, planning to get pregnant, or the sexual partner of a pregnant or trying to get pregnant woman. It doesn’t cause severe illness in the non pregnant person and resolves without treatment. That being said avoidance is still advisable for everybody.
There is no vaccine for Zika. The best plan is to prevent infection from the Zika virus in the first place. This can be done by avoiding travel to those areas with high Zinka prevalence, I recommend that all pregnant women avoid traveling to these areas completely. If you are in an area with known infections consider mosquito repellent and long pants and sleeves. Finally, remember that the virus can be transmitted sexually so know your risk of infection with all sexual partners and use condoms for any sexual act if you suspect risk.
Finally, if you are pregnant and suspect infection or risk of infection consult with your physician as soon as possible. It is not possible to prevent poor outcomes from viral infection but it is possible to be prepared to manage the results of the virus.