Understanding the Zika Virus: What You Should Know
What is Zika?
The Zika virus is a mosquito-born flavivirus. The illness is usually mild, but Zika during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects. As of 2016, there have been outbreaks in Asia, Africa, South and Central Americas and islands in the Pacific.
The Zika virus is transmitted through mosquito bites and sexual contact. The mosquitoes that carry Zika are called the Aedes species and are common around the world. This particular species of mosquitoes are active daytime biters, but also bite at night and prefer to bite people. The mosquitoes get the virus from biting individuals who are already infected and then those mosquitoes spread it to others.
Pregnancy and Zika
- Pregnant women can be infected with Zika virus, either from an infected mosquito or from unprotected sex with a man with Zika.
- A pregnant woman can then pass Zika to her fetus, either during pregnancy or at delivery.
- Some infants exposed to Zika have been born with birth defects, including microcephaly, which is a condition where a baby's head is much smaller than expected. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should discuss their questions and concerns with their physician.
- Men with possible Zika exposure, regardless of symptom status, trying to conceive with their partner are advised to wait six months instead of the previous guideline of eight weeks. The 6 month waiting period begins after symptom onset or last possible Zika virus exposure.
Know the Facts about Zika
Most people infected with Zika virus won't even know they have the disease because they won't have symptoms. 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 after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
- People usually don't get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.
- Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week but it can be found longer in some people.
- Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.
What You Should Do If You Have Traveled to a Zika-Affected Area and Have Signs of Zika
If you are pregnant and develop a fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes within two weeks after traveling to a place where Zika has been reported, contact your doctor.
If you have traveled outside the United States in the last 21 days to an area known to have the Zika virus and are experiencing symptoms, you should contact your provider.
Zika Virus Diagnosis
There is no test commercially available for the Zika virus. However, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider if you begin to experience symptoms and have visited locations where the Zika virus is prevalent. Additionally, if you are traveling to any destinations where it is common, be sure to let your healthcare provider know beforehand.
How Zika is Treated
As of now there are no medications or vaccines available to treat or prevent the Zika virus infection. According to the CDC, ways that you can treat the symptoms include:
- Ensure you get plenty of rest.
- Drink generous amounts of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- To relieve the pain and/or fever take medications such as acetaminophen or paracetamol.
- Avoid anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen and speak with your healthcare provider before taking any other medication.
Since there is no known vaccine for Zika, the best way to prevent contracting the virus is by avoiding contact. This includes:
- Avoid traveling to areas where Zika is prevalent.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites.
- Avoiding sexual contact with an individual who may have the Zika virus.
- Insect repellent, registered by the Environmental Protection Agency and used as directed, is the best protection from mosquito bites and can be safely used by children and pregnant women. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide long-lasting protection.
- Cover up: when weather permits, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
- Keep mosquitos outside: use air conditioning or make sure that you repair and use window/door screens.