What is the Zika virus?

This month, the New York Times reported, “The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency, prompted by growing concern that it could cause birth defects. As many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year” (NYT. 2016).

Although this data is staggering, it is only recently making serious headline news because of the neurological disorder, microcephaly, in babies who have smaller heads and perhaps brain damage.

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However the Zika virus was discovered originally in 1947 in Uganda.

How is it transmitted?

Similar to the dengue, chikungunya, West Nile, and Yellow Fever viruses, it is most frequently transmitted by a bite from an infected Aedes (female) mosquito, but may be transmitted via blood transfusions, sexual contact, and during pregnancy to the baby.

In the United States, the mosquito may be found in Florida, the Gulf Coast and Hawaii.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat the virus and it is spreading at an alarming rate because few people are immune. Research indicates that the incubation period – from exposure to showing symptoms – is a few days to a week.

Only 20% of infected people become sick, but even if asymptomatic they can still transmit the disease.

Zika virus symptoms

The symptoms of the virus are usually mild and last approximately one week; however, in more severe cases, medical intervention or hospitalization may be required.

Symptoms:

– Fever
– Skin rash
– Conjunctivitis (pinkeye – inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin clear tissue that lies over the white part of the eye)
– Muscle pain
– Joint inflammation
– Headache
– Pain behind the eyes
– Vomiting
– Nausea
– Abdominal pain
– Diarrhoea
– Potential link to Guillain-Barré syndrome: which is a rare autoimmune disease and neurological disorder where people’s immune systems damage their peripheral nervous system and nerve cells causing muscle weakness and paralysis
– Evidence of the birth defect microcephaly: a condition in babies characterized by a shrunken head and incomplete brain development since the virus passes through amniotic fluid.

zika virus symptoms_2Prevention

The best way to avoid contracting the virus is through appropriate prevention methods especially if you are traveling to countries with known threat (Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands).

It is critical to remove any potential breeding sites of standing or stored water such as gutters, water pots, plants, pools, and buckets and use insect repellent to reduce potential contact.

In addition, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the following:

– Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants

– Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside

– Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites (CDC. 2016)

The United States Environmental Protection Agency provides guidance through: ‘Find the Insect Repellent that is Right for You’ to help you determine the best repellent.

Connect with Expert Leslie Olsen

References:

– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). Prevention.

– The New York Times (NYT). (2016). Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika Virus. Health.

– World Health Organization (WHO). (2016). Zika virus. Media Centre.

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