Before 2016, most Americans had never heard of the Zika virus. Now that the virus is spreading rapidly through certain parts of the world and threatening to spread to parts of the United States, it is on everyone’s radar. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared a public health emergency in relation to the virus.
It’s important that healthcare workers and the general public stay informed about this dangerous virus. After all, education is one of the important first steps in fighting any outbreak. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about the Zika virus.
How it Spreads
The Zika virus is spread to humans through the bite of two particular mosquito types called Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. These mosquitoes are also responsible for transmitting dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever. They feed both indoors and outdoors, often during the day. These insects, like many mosquitos, breed near standing water.
At this time, there is some debate as to whether the virus is transmittable from human-to-human. Until recently, experts believed that this type of transmission was not possible. However, a recent case in Dallas points to human-to-human transmission being possible via sexual intercourse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 5 people infected with the Zika virus will experience symptoms. These symptoms are often similar to the flu and can include:
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
Typically, these symptoms remain mild and last a few days to a few weeks. Although the virus is unpleasant, hospitalization and death due to the Zika virus are very rare.
For Pregnant Women
Although symptoms in most people are mild, the Zika virus can have major ramifications for pregnant women and their unborn children. The virus is believed to cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly.
According to the CDC, “Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. During pregnancy, a baby’s head grows because the baby’s brain grows. Microcephaly can occur because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth, which results in a smaller head size.”
Sometimes, the microcephaly is an isolated condition. However, it can present with other symptoms including:
- Developmental delays
- Problems regarding movement and balance
- Intellectual disabilities
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hearing and vision difficulties
For these reasons, it is extremely important that women who are pregnant or may become pregnant avoid areas where the Zika virus is present. In fact, some countries that are dealing with the virus have asked women not to get pregnant for several years.
Currently, there are no vaccines or medication available for treating the Zika virus. Patients with symptoms are advised to get rest, drink plenty of fluids, and take acetaminophen for the pain. Patients who may have contracted the Zika virus should not take any NSAIDs, at least until dengue fever is ruled out by a healthcare provider.
Although no locally transmitted cases have been found in the United States, some experts believe it could spread to Gulf Coast states as temperatures rise. Currently, mosquito bite prevention is the best method for stopping the spread of the Zika virus. Whether or not the virus spreads to the Unites States, it’s always a good idea to prevent mosquito bites, as the insects can carry other diseases such as West Nile virus. See the CDC’s guidelines for more information.