I’ve been hearing a lot of concerns from many of my patients about Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that, while usually mild for most, can have serious consequences for pregnant women and their unborn babies. Chances are you’ve heard of it, given the intense news coverage it’s received since the widespread epidemic was reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in early 2015. While the virus was mostly contained to the Latin American countries and the Caribbean, by mid-August at least 37 people had contracted the virus in Miami, Florida and surrounding neighborhoods.
Just this week, Zika is making headlines once again after the CDC reports the potential for sperm donations from three counties in Florida to contain the virus.
Okay, ready for the good news? For most healthy adults, the effects of the Zika virus are mild. That being said, it’s still something that should be on everyone’s radar to avoid, especially those expecting or trying to conceive.
To arm you with the information you need to live your healthiest life, here’s what you need to know about Zika:
Where did Zika come from?
The virus first reared its ugly head back in 1947 in the ZIka Forest of Uganda and since the 1950s it’s only been seen around the equatorial belt from Africa to Asia. The virus didn’t start spreading eastward until 2007 and appeared on the Pacific coast around 2015.
How is Zika spread?
It’s most commonly spread through mosquito bites, specifically the Aedes species, which are also known to spread other viruses. Once a person is infected, the virus can be passed through sexual contact or blood transfusions, similarly to how the AIDS virus can be passed. It can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy or delivery.
What are symptoms and side effects of Zika?
Only about 20 percent of those infected with the Zika virus will end up exhibiting symptoms, which typically last between two and seven days. For those who are not pregnant or trying to conceive, the worst cases cause a pesky rash, extreme fatigue, sore muscles, fever and headache. It can, however, lead to a rare complication called Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease of the nervous system that involves muscle weakness and, in some cases, paralysis.
For pregnant women, however, the impact of the Zika virus is much more serious. This is because when a pregnant woman is infected with the virus, it can also affect her fetus and cause a condition known as microcephaly. Microcephaly is a neurological condition in which the brain of the fetus does not develop properly, resulting in a smaller-than-normal head. In addition, new research presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting shows that the virus may also be linked another neurological disease, multiple sclerosis, which disrupts brain signals to body.
How do I know if I have Zika?
The CDC recommends Zika virus testing for people who have recently traveled to an infected region or country, if they’ve had sexual intercourse with someone who’s traveled to an infected region or country, or if they show signs or symptoms that are indicative of the condition. The virus is detected by a simple blood or urine test administered by your doctor. The CDC recommends doctors test pregnant women for Zika within 12 weeks that they’re showing symptoms or have potentially been exposed.
How can I prevent Zika?
Your best mode of defense against the Zika virus is to avoid traveling to infected areas. If you’re not sure which areas are currently considered infected, check the CDC’s website for updated travel advisories.
As the weather warms up, even if you’re in unaffected areas, arm yourself with insect repellent. Always avoid any repellents containing harmful chemicals like DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. Also, wear long sleeves and avoid standing near large bodies of water, which mosquitoes are known to frequent.