Zika is a virus transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, a species that is common throughout the world. It may also be transmitted through sexual contact and blood transfusions. First identified in the Zika Valley of Africa in 1947, there have been several outbreaks in locations in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands since 2007. Most recently, reported cases in Brazil have risen sharply since May 2015.
In most cases, the Zika virus causes few signs or symptoms, though an estimated one in five people may develop a mild fever, rash, muscle pain, headache or conjunctivitis two to seven days after contracting the virus.Treatment for the flu-like symptoms is limited to plenty of rest and fluids along with acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve any joint pain or fever. Most people fully recover within a week.
There is evidence that the Zika virus can cause microcephaly in newborn infants if an infected mosquito bites a women during her pregnancy. Microcephaly is a congenital brain condition in which the baby’s head is significantly smaller than normal. It is potentially fatal. The Zika virus has also been connected to eye defects, hearing loss and impaired growth in infants when contracted during pregnancy.
It’s also possible that the Zika virus can lead to other neurological disorders in children and adults such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, which causes the body’s immune system to attack its nerves.A vaccine to prevent the Zika virus is not currently available. However, if you’re not pregnant or currently trying to get pregnant, there is little reason to worry about it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women avoid travelling to areas where Zika transmissions are ongoing, including Argentina, Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Venezuela.
If you must travel to these areas, experts suggest taking precautions such as using insect repellent that contains DEET or picaridin, wearing long sleeves and pants, and staying indoors or behind screens whenever possible.
Exposure to the Zika virus should not have an effect on future pregnancies, although the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that couples wait at least six months before attempting to become pregnant if the male partner has experienced Zika symptoms and at least eight weeks if either partner has traveled to an area where Zika infection is possible.
If you’ve traveled to an area where there is a Zika virus outbreak and develop any symptoms, see your physician. Blood tests are available to identify the virus as well as other similar diseases transmitted by mosquitos.