Zika: What it is
You’ve heard about the Zika virus by now. It was a topic of concern before and during the Olympics as young women questioned whether or not they wanted to be exposed to the dangers of the virus.
Zika is spread by the Aedes species of mosquito. This mosquito bites at nighttime, but is also an aggressive biter in the daytime. It was first discovered in Brazil where women infected by the virus gave birth to babies with microencephaly a disease in which the baby’s head fails to develop normally causing severe defects such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and severe intellectual deficits. Brazil has currently documented over 3,500 cases of the disease with numbers rising.
How it spreads
A person is infected with the virus when bitten by an infected mosquito. The disease can also be spread by a mother to her fetus, by sexual contact and possibly by blood transfusions. Infected persons may carry the virus to new locations via travel. Strangely enough, infected persons bitten by another mosquito can pass the virus along to that mosquito, thus increasing the spread of the virus.
The current Zika outbreaks with cases of microencephaly first occurred in Brazil in May of 2015. The spread of the disease is a day by day event with cases now reported in 49 countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Americas. Centers for Disease Control worldwide are following the movement of the disease and are aggressively addressing the problem with educational materials and pesticide spray programs. In the U.S. there is currently a neighborhood in Miami where the disease is actively being spread by infected mosquitoes.
One of the problems with dealing with Zika is the fact that as many as 80% of those infected have no symptoms at all. The remaining 20% will be only moderately sick and may have low grade fevers, a rash, joint pain, and possibly pinkeye. There is currently no vaccine for Zika although there are efforts now to create one.
How to Protect Yourself and Family Members
The best way to protect against the virus is to protect against mosquito bites. This involves wearing lightweight, long-sleeved clothing, using mosquito nets, bug repellent and avoiding areas where there is standing water. If you suspect you have been bitten by infected mosquitoes, a visit to the doctor early is advised. Staying indoors in air conditioning is helpful in avoiding bites.
Once infected with the virus, it is important for the individual to either refrain from sexual activity or use protection to avoid passing the virus on to partners.
Because the virus is spreading rapidly throughout the world, it’s important to stay aware of any outbreaks in your home area and follow any guidelines given by local disease control agencies.
For more information go to www.cdc.gov/Zika or any disease control centers in your area.