If you haven’t been living under a rock the last few months, then I’m sure you’ve heard all about the Zika virus. And it seems to be mainly mild, with the most common symptoms being a rash, fever, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, which is red eyes. The symptoms can last up to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People aren’t usually sick enough to need a hospital visit, and they rarely die of Zika.
So, why is there so much fear?
Because of what can happen if you’re pregnant and get Zika.
The Zika virus has been linked to causing a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as many other serious fetal brain defects.
The virus has been around since the 1940s, so it’s not exactly new, but there have been outbreaks in the last year that have health officials concerned. On Feb. 1, 2016, the World Health Organization declared Zika virus to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. And it’s beginning to spread.
A diagnosis of Zika can only be confirmed through lab testing of blood, urine, saliva, or semen. But thats not all you need to know.
12 What are Symptoms of Zika?
Most people who are infected with Zika won’t even know they had the disease, because they won’t have any symptoms. The common symptoms of Zika, however, are fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes, and can include muscle pain and headaches. The incubation period for the virus isn’t known, but it is likely to be a few days to a week. The illness is often mild, with symptoms lasting a few days to a week.
In fact, people don’t usually get sick enough to even go to the hospital, and they very, very rarely die of the Zika virus. Generally speaking, Zika lasts in the blood for about a week, but it has been found longer than that in some people. Once a person is infected, however, they are likely to be protected from future infections and are immune to future Zika exposure.
11 Zika Can be Spread by a Mosquito Bite.
This is the primary way to catch Zika virus, and because you never know what kind of mosquito is biting you, it’s really frightening. Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus first identified in Uganda. These mosquitos typically lay eggs in and near standing water, in things like bowls, ponds, buckets, and vases. The mosquitos that spread Zika are aggressive daytime biters, but they can also bite at night. Because it is spread by mosquitos, it can spread easily outside of the outbreak zones, mainly if an infected mosquito is transported accidentally to other countries.
Outbreaks have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific, so it has reached far and wide. These Aedes mosquitos, which are the main transmitters of the virus, usually bite during the day. These are the same mosquitos that can spread dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fevers. However, this is not the only way it’s spread.
10 It Can Be Spread From Sex With an Infected Individual
You unfortunately don’t have to be bitten by anything to get this virus. If your partner is bitten and infected, then having sex with them can cause you to become infected also. This was first noted in 2008, by a doctor who described a patient who was infected with Zika in Senegal. When he returned home to Colorado, and passed it on to his wife. To reduce the risk of sexual transmission, and potential pregnancy complications, the sexual partners of pregnant women that are living in or returning from areas where local transmission of the Zika virus occurs should practice safe sex or practice abstinence.
You can prevent Zika from transmitting through the semen the same way you would any other STD; by wearing a condom. This fact is scary, and this is what we do know, but what we don’t know trumps what we do know, and that’s even worse.
9 How Likely Is a Pregnant Woman to Get Zika?
We don’t know how likely it is that a pregnant woman will get Zika. There’s just no solid data telling us exactly how likely a mother is to get the Zika virus. All we do know is that once exposed, there is a definite chance that the woman will develop the virus.
Now, according to CNN, if there are no infected mosquitos in your area, you’re actually very unlikely to get the Zika virus. It’s mainly raising concerns in Central and South America as of right now, and not so much in the United States or other areas. The main chance you have, if you do not live in an affected area, of catching this virus is sexually. If you come into sexual contact with a man who has lived outside of the country or recently traveled to one of these affected areas, you will want to get tested.
8 How It Affects Pregnancy and Pregnant Women
We have no idea just how it affects the pregnant woman, or her pregnancy. We know that it will not cause infections in the baby once it has left the blood stream, and we also know that the current data suggests that it does not pose a risk of birth defects in future pregnancies.
But, we also know that during a current pregnancy, it can potentially cause death to the fetus and severe problems to the baby. It needs more study to determine exactly how it fully effects the fetus or what exactly happens once the fetus is effected. Are there more defects that can occur due to this virus? Doctors aren't sure, and that is a problem. Only time will give us a better idea of how it will affect a pregnancy in detail, and what we can do to help prevent it from infecting pregnant women.
7 Likelihood of Passing Zika to Unborn Fetus
We’re not sure about the likelihood of it passing to the unborn fetus. We just have no guaranteed input on the chances that the child will get the virus or be affected by it. It seems to be more hit and miss. We DO know that the virus does have a high likelihood of affecting the fetus by way of birth defects.
We do not know the exact numbers. Some babies are born with it, others just are not, and it seems to be at random. Some research is showing that the number of babies who are infected with Zika and who have defects are 1 in every 100, but this is not full fact yet, and more research, which will likely take years, is needed to get to a more definite conclusion. This journey into the unknown is terrifying to some, and I can’t say I blame them.
6 If the Fetus is Infected, Will They Develop Birth Defects?
We don’t know if the fetus is infected, if it will develop serious birth defects. It happens in many cases, and researchers are still working to determine exactly how often a fetus develops these birth defects, which, as stated before, include microcephaly and other mental disorders. Microcephaly is an abnormal smallness of he head, and it’s a congenital condition often associated with incomplete brain development. Zika raises the chances of this problem to, as said before, about 1 in 100 births in infected women. The chance is high, but how high exactly? Scientists aren’t sure yet.
Zika is also potentially linked to hearing loss and problems in the eyes, and may also contribute to miscarriage and stillbirth. In other words, a lot of really bad things can happen, but we don’t know the exact likelihood that they will happen. That makes this virus that much more frightening.
5 When Does Zika Infection Cause Harm to Fetus?
We don’t know when in pregnancy the infection may cause harm to the fetus. Researchers noted that, in the cases of miscarriages that occurred in women who were positive for the Zika virus and had it found in their placenta, they were earlier on in their pregnancies.
Thus, one of the things that researchers are studying is the possibility and suspicion that contracting the Zika virus in the first trimester may be more detrimental to the pregnancy compared to those who contract the Zika virus in the second or third trimesters of pregnancy. The CDC reported in February that two US women who had contracted the virus while traveled abroad miscarried after returning home, and Zika virus was found in their placentas. But, again, they’re not 100% certain about the chances of it happening It’s going to take more study and research to come to a full determination about it.
4 Sexual Transmission vs Mosquito Transmission of Zika
Another question the scientific community has regarding the transmission of the Zika virus is whether the sexual transmission of the disease poses a different risk of birth defects than the mosquito borne transmission. There’s always the possibilty that the risks go down with sexual transmission of Zika, and there’s the chance that it goes up, we just don’t know.
What we do know is that a man can spread Zika whether or not he’s showing symptoms, and can possibly spread it after symptoms end. Zika stays in the semen longer than the blood stream, but no one knows exactly how long it stays. We're also not sure if women with Zika can pass the virus to their sexual partners. If in doubt, play it safe, but that goes for every aspect of sexual health, whether the Zika virus is involved or not.
3 Infants Can Get It
Federal health officials are saying that newborns who are born to mothers who were living in or visiting a Zika outbreak country should be tested for the infection, and also if the mother’s own testing is positive or inconclusive. According to the CDC, a thorough physical examination should be performed, including a very careful measuring of the head circumference, length, weight,and assessment of gestational age. Cranial ultrasound is recommended unless it was performed as a part of prenatal screenings in the third trimester, and no abnormalities in the brain were shown.
Officials aren’t sure the full effect Zika can have on infants, but it has been linked to deficits in vision and hearing, so there is concern that the child could end up with a problem in those areas after being infected, among other potential, currently unknown problems.
2 There’s No Treatment
Zika has no vaccine, no treatment, and no cure. Why? Because scientists assumed that the virus was so benign, meaning it caused such little harm, that they figured it wasn’t worth it to investigate and do the research into finding a treatment or cure. And many of those who do get infected will never know they’ve gotten it.
That can be a blessing to those who aren’t pregnant, but a curse to someone who is. It leaves that fear of, ‘What if I have this, and I don’t know?’ A vaccine is being developed at the National Institutes of Health, though. The scientists are tweaking a vaccine that was initially developed for the West Nile virus. Scientists are expected to launch a safety trial of a Zika virus vaccine in September. Prevention is what they are most concerned about at this point.
1 Treat the Symptoms.
If you get Zika, doctors, although unable to treat and cure the virus itself, can and will help you to treat the symptoms of the virus. They’ll suggest many things, including to get rest, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, and take medicines such as Tylenol to reduce fever and pain. Basically, they’ll treat it like a cold. Which means if, by some fluke, you do get Zika, you shouldn’t panic about what to do for it.
Just rest up, and try to get as much sleep as you can. You do not want to be dehydrated when you have something like Zika. Things to know about treatment are that if you are taking asprin or other NSAIDS until dengue can be ruled out, to reduce the risk of bleeding, and if you are taking medicine for other conditions, make sure you tell the doctor before you take additional medicine.
All of the unknowns make the Zika virus a scary thing to think about, but in all honesty, if you and your partner have not left the country to visit an area affected, and if you practice safe sex in the case that one of you has been to an outbreak country, then you really do not have as much to worry about.
If you do live in a country with an outbreak of Zika virus, then follow your health officials guidelines. Have sex with a condom, use insect repellent to ward off mosquitos, wear long sleeves and pants if you can, and follow all other procedures.
Zika virus can be frightening, but new medical strides are being made every day. A vaccine is in the works, and who knows, there may be a breakthrough on a treatment at some point. Just follow your doctor’s advice.
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