What you need to know about the Zika virus

What you need to know about the Zika virus

Have you heard talk of the Zika virus on the news recently? The World Health Organization has recently declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency. What is this virus, and who is at risk? Here’s everything you need to know about the Zika virus and how to protect your family.

Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. It can also be transferred from mother to baby during pregnancy or shortly after delivery (there are no reports of infants being infected with the virus through breastfeeding), as well as through sexual contact or blood transfusion.

In May 2015, the virus was confirmed in Brazil, and has since been detected in other countries (mostly in the Caribbean and Latin America), including US Territories Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa. No local mosquito-borne Zika virus cases have been reported in the US, but there have been travel-associated cases.

The Zika virus causes a usually mild illness with symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. These symptoms typically last several days to a week after the bite from the infected mosquito. People infected with the Zika virus are usually not sick enough to go to the hospital, and death from the virus is rare.

There are, however, some people who are at greater risk of complications from infection with the virus, particularly pregnant women.

Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus and has been linked to microcephaly in babies, a serious birth defect of the brain. Other problems the baby may encounter include: absent or poorly developed brain structures, eye defects, hearing deficits and impaired growth. The Centers for Disease Control recommend that pregnant women avoid travel to areas with Zika. If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your healthcare provider and take strict precautions to avoid mosquito bites during your trip.

There are still some unknowns when it comes to the Zika virus. According to the CDC, here are some of the things health authorities still do not know about the Zika virus:

  • If a pregnant woman is exposed to Zika, it's unclear how likely she is to get the virus.
  • If a pregnant woman becomes infected with Zika, it's unclear how the virus will affect her or her pregnancy or the likelihood that Zika will pass to her fetus.
  • If the fetus does become infected, it's unclear whether it will develop birth defects or when in pregnancy the infection might cause harm to the fetus.
  • Authorities don't know if sexual transmission of Zika virus poses a different risk of birth defects than mosquito-borne transmission.

Preventing Zika

There is no medicine or vaccine for Zika. The best way to prevent infection is to prevent mosquito bites. Here are a few tips to avoid Zika infection:

  • Avoid travel to areas where there are known local mosquito-borne Zika virus cases.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside during mosquito season.
  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellant.
  • Stay away from mosquito breeding sites, like areas with standing water. 
  • If you or your partner lives in or has traveled to a known Zika area, practice safe sex or abstinence, especially if you or your partner is pregnant. 
  • If you are a woman and have traveled to a Zika-infected area, wait at least eight weeks before trying to get pregnant.
  • If you are a man who has had symptoms of Zika infection, wait at least six months before having unprotected sex.

If you are concerned about your risk for Zika or think you may have been infected, talk to your healthcare provider immediately.

 

Posted: 4/27/2016 by Goshen Health
Filed under: wellness awareness, zika, zika virus

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