Zika Virus: What Do You Need to Know?

Zika Virus: What Do You Need to Know?

Zika has been an important topic in world news with health organizations issuing necessary warnings about the virus in recent months. Commonly spread through mosquito bites, as well as sexual contact, this virus is rarely fatal and could be mistaken for various other diseases. Zika is relatively mild, and you will most likely fight it off without ever having to take a trip to the hospital. In fact, if it presents itself without a rash or pink eye (conjunctivitis), you might dismiss it entirely. However, pregnant women and those who are trying to get pregnant should pay closer attention to signs of Zika since it can cause fetal birth defects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regularly updates their recommendations for the prevention of the virus.

What Is Zika Virus?

Spread by the Aedes mosquito species, Zika virus is something for which to watch. The Zika virus attacks the body, and specifically brain cells, causing you to spike a fever as your body marshals its defenses, and shares similar symptoms as dengue, West Nile virus, or yellow fever. However, many people never develop any symptoms. The virus typically lasts for 2-7 days, but the risk to pregnant women was a critical factor in the decision by the World Health Organization to name Zika a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Zika Virus and Related Conditions

Zika has been linked to other health issues. By itself, the virus is relatively benign. Mild symptoms and a relatively quick recovery time make it no worse than any minor virus. What pushes Zika into public health emergency status is the increased likelihood of developing a secondary condition. For instance, Zika can cause microcephaly in a developing fetus, and in adults, the chances of developing Guillain-Barre syndrome are higher.

  • Microcephaly: A developmental condition that causes babies to be born with a smaller head. It can lead to developmental delays, such as speech problems; seizures; and disabilities. Children born with this condition do not live as long and struggle with lifelong disabilities. Some children may take longer to start talking and demonstrate intellectual disabilities while others may have muscular issues. In Brazil, there were nearly 5,000 confirmed or expected microcephaly cases in infants as of late April 2016, as compared to 2014, when the country reported only 147 cases. 
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome: Typically triggered by a virus, this illness causes your body to attack itself. It can lead to paralysis and can affect your breathing. In French Polynesia, Guillain-Barre diagnoses rose as the Zika virus spread to the island. However, if you've been to an area with Zika, don't panic. Guillain-Barre is very rare and usually only affects about one out of every 100,000 people. Even with a dramatic increase, the actual number of cases in French Polynesia was 42 out of a total population of 276,831.

Symptoms and Causes

Zika virus is an illness spread mostly by a single strain of mosquitoes, the Aedes species. A bite from an infected mosquito can give you Zika, and the virus can be transmitted through sexual contact. In the last year, several reported cases of Zika virus developed after an individual had sex with an infected person. One way to avoid contracting the virus in this way is through the use of condoms. 

It might take a few days before you notice any symptoms associated with the virus, but be on the lookout for the following:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Malaise (general discomfort)
  • Headache

Prevention and Risks

The big risk with Zika is birth defects because the virus attacks the neurological systems and can cause a variety of problems during pregnancy. Microcephaly is among the worst of them. In the early stages of pregnancy, the virus may even cause a stillbirth. However, you can avoid Zika with a few tips and tricks.

  • Follow travel restrictions. The CDC and WHO routinely post information about where Zika outbreaks are on the rise. Don't travel to affected areas. Following travel restrictions is the best and easiest way to avoid exposure.
  • Prevent mosquito bites. If you live in an affected region or must travel to the tropics, be obsessive about mosquito repellents and netting. Lemon Eucalyptus oil is a natural repellent that helps ward off disease-carrying insects. Wear loose fitting clothes. A tight fit gives a mosquito the chance to bite through your clothing. Keep the mosquitoes away and you'll keep the virus away.
  • Don't just protect yourself, protect your environment. Not only should you wear repellent, but you should also treat the areas around your home. Check for standing water and get rid of mosquito breeding grounds.
  • Use protection during sex. Because Zika can be transmitted during sex, you should refrain from unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

Diagnosis and Tests

To diagnose the Zika virus, your doctor will do a blood or urine test. Because Zika is very similar to other tropical diseases like dengue and chikungunya, a blood test is the only way to be sure to rule out Zika. Tell your doctor if you have recently traveled to an area where Zika is common so you can get tested and receive a diagnosis more quickly.

Treatment, Procedures, and Medication

In most cases, you won't need to see a doctor to cure Zika. There is no vaccine or treatment specific to the virus. Instead, doctors treat the symptoms with a variety of medications. They might suggest taking Tylenol or Ibuprofen to help control the fever and aches. You should get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids if you are treating the virus.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

During the worst heat of summer, it's recommended that you move your exercise routine into the gym. Sweat attracts mosquitoes, so do as much of your sweating indoors as possible. Also, get rid of mosquito habitats in your area. Drain off any standing water to reduce the mosquito population. That includes things like the air conditioner drain pan and flower pots. No water means no mosquitoes, which rapidly reduces your risk of exposure.

Conclusion

More than 50 countries have reported local transmission of the Zika virus. Before planning any trips, talk to your doctor and check the latest travel recommendation by the CDC. If you are coming back from a trip abroad or live in an area where the virus has spread or is likely to spread in the United States, talk to your doctor about testing. If you are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy, discuss with your doctor how Zika could affect fetal development.

Sources
  1. CDC: About Zika Virus Disease
  2. World Health Organization: Zika Virus Fact Sheet
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC Concludes Zika Virus Causes Microcephaly and Other Birth Defects
  4. Medical Daily: Tiny Lab-Grown 3D Brains Help Scientists Study How Zika Virus Damages Stem Cells In Brain
  5. New York Times: Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika Virus
  6. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention: Facts about Microcephaly
  7. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Guillain-Barre Syndrome Fact Sheet
  8. Reuters: Brazil says Zika-linked microcephaly cases stable at 4,908