Everything You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

zika virus

Everything You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

The world has woken up to a new global pandemic that has caused widespread concern and panic. According to the World Health Organization, the Zika virus is spreading aggressively in America. The virus has been found to cause birth defects in newly-born babies and health authorities like the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) have been forced to issue travel warnings against pregnant women visiting the affected countries. Mosquitoes are mainly responsible for spreading the virus but there are also reports of the virus being transmitted through sexual intercourse and blood transfusion. Once the mosquito bites a person with the infection, it carries the virus to the next bite victim.

History

The first incidence of the Zika virus was reported in 1947 in Uganda. It is transmitted by the aedes mosquito, which is also associated with yellow fever, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. From Africa, the virus first crossed to the South Pacific region in 2007 before making its way to other parts of the world.

Symptoms

Typical symptoms of the Zika virus include rashes, joint pain, fever and redness in the eyes. However, 80 percent of the victims of the disease do not show any symptoms. This is similar to other mosquito-related infections like the dengue and the West Nile virus. The flu-like symptoms vary in intensity and can last anywhere from a couple of days to over a week.

Treatment

Currently there is no specific treatment for the virus, but medical experts normally prescribe the common medications used to relieve pains or aches. Fortunately, the disease subsides in the body on its own within approximately one week.

Effect on Babies

The most serious effect of the Zika virus is on babies who are born by infected women. The virus causes the condition known as microcephaly, where the growth of the baby’s head becomes stunted. This may lead to severe or even fatal brain damage. It can also cause stillbirth or miscarriage.

Risk Zones

The areas most hard-hit by the Zika virus epidemic include most of South and Central America, the Caribbean, the Polynesian region and parts of North America such as Mexico. Pregnant women and their male partners are discouraged from visiting these regions. But if you must visit these regions, the CDC advises that you take strong measures to avoid mosquito bites.

If as a couple you are trying to conceive and one of you has visited these regions, it is recommended that you wait for up to 6 months before getting pregnant. In addition, if you are pregnant and you have returned from these areas, you need to be tested within the first 12 weeks of your return, even if you do not seem to have any symptoms. The virus is also expected to hit the US because of interaction with travelers from these countries, but health experts expect that it will have less devastating effects.

Testing

There are two methods of testing for the Zika virus. One method involves looking for signs of the virus in people who are infected. This test is however ineffective after the infection has been cleared from the body, a process which typically takes around 2 weeks from the date that the symptoms first become noticeable.

The second method entails analyzing the antibodies produced by the body to combat the virus. This method can detect the antibodies even after three months from the date of infection. However, this test is not specific since it does not differentiate between Zika and other related viruses such as the chikungunya and dengue. It is therefore necessary to run additional tests if the results are positive or inconclusive. This can be done in a lab that is run or approved by government bodies like the CDC. Nevertheless there is ongoing research geared towards enhancing the accuracy of this test.

Protective Measures

If you are intending to travel to areas that are currently affected by the virus, it is advisable to carry mosquito repellent to help avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. It is also recommended that you wear shirts with long sleeves and long pants- whether you are outside or inside a room. The mosquitoes that transmit the virus are aggressive and will even bite you when you are indoors.

When you travel back from those countries, you still need to be on the lookout for mosquito bites particularly during the first ten days after you return. This is because you may have the disease but you are unaware about it. This helps to arrest the spread of the disease.

If you have traveled to any of the areas mentioned and feel the need to be tested for the Zika virus or if you would simply like more information, please feel free to call Dr. Sue Reddy, infectious disease specialist. You can make an appointment to speak with Dr. Reddy and have all of your questions answered to your satisfaction.