The Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease, used to be a rare disease. Today, as you may have seen prominently in the news, it’s rampaging through the Americas since being discovered in Brazil last May.
The virus has now made its way to the U.S., courtesy a Texas traveler returning from a Latin America trip last week.
Health officials are alarmed as the disease is linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and potential developmental problems.
With health practitioners on high alert, here’s what you should know about the virus.
What is the Zika virus?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the Zika virus can cause rash, fever, joint pain, and pinkeye. About 1-in-5 people exposed to Zika develop symptoms, beginning a few days after infection. The illness isn’t severe, typically lasting a week. Brazilian officials have recognized at least seven deaths that’re potentially linked to the disease, however.
So why is it a concern?
As stated previous, health officials are extremely wary of the birth defects from the Zika virus, which could lead to a large increase in babies being born with unusually small heads.
By the end of November, the World Health Organization reported a 20 percent rate increase in microcephaly found in live births in Brazil compared to its typical birth records.
While there isn’t definitive proof that Zika virus is the cause in the rapid increase of microcephaly, Brazil doesn’t have any other explanation for the phenomena. In other words, it’s the only thing that’s really changed in terms of Brazil and healthcare.
How does it spread?
Mosquitoes first contract the Zika, and then transfer the virus to humans through bites. The virus moves to new areas when infected patients travel to new territory and are bitten by mosquitoes there.
It’s also possible for the virus to be passed down from an infected mother to an infant, but the CDC it’s extremely rare. Blood transfusions and sexual contact are other ways to potentially contract the disease.
How can I protect myself?
There is currently no vaccine or treatment for the Zika virus. So naturally, the best prevention method is taking precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Think repellant, screens, long sleeves and pants.
Additionally, the CDC advises – pregnant women in particular – to consider delaying travel to any of the 14 countries in Latin America or the Carribean where the Zika virus is spreading.
The slightly good news for North Americans is the mosquito control is far better than the other infected countries, so extended transmission should be unlikely.