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8 Things You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a relaxing beach vacation before the baby arrives? If you’re a first-time mom, it may be the last time you and your partner can enjoy some peaceful alone time before you are thrown into the chaos of sleepless nights, on-demand feedings, and caring for a newborn.

Feeling the warm sand between your toes and lapping up the brilliant sunshine could be a beautiful reality, but with the spread of the Zika virus, taking a trip may require some extra precautions be taken.

This virus presents a direct threat to your baby’s health, so you shouldn’t tread lightly in terms of gathering information and making decisions with the danger in view. As sad as it is to say (and frustrating to hear, I’m sure), a cancelled vacation might be the best decision you make for your little one. Beyond precautions, staying home might be the safest option in the wake of Zika.

As of late, you cannot turn the news on without hearing about the Zika virus. You naturally may have some questions about what it is and how it can be prevented. Pregnancy is stressful enough without adding illness on top of it. Your health, and the health of your little one, is of utmost priority. Therefore, we’ve compiled some information about the spread of this illness and what you need to be aware of before deciding where to take your dream vacation.

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8  What Is the Zika Virus?

Zika is a disease caused by the Zika virus. It is spread to humans mainly through the bite of an Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes were originally found in tropical and subtropical zones, but are now found on all continents, except Antarctica (those goosebumps are looking pretty appealing now, aren’t they?).

You may never have heard of the Zika virus before, but it is not a new illness. The virus was first isolated in April 1947 from a rhesus monkey in Zika forest, Uganda. Small outbreaks have been noted but were quite limited to Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands.

In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. It is now considered a pandemic. About 1 in 5 people infected with the virus become ill.

7  How Many People Have Been Affected?

The number of people affected by the Zika virus is growing rapidly – like wildfire. It is currently concentrated mainly in the Americas and in some parts of Africa and the Pacific Islands. The World Health Organization (WHO) forecasts that as many as 4 million people in the Americas could wind up infected with the Zika virus.

Cases have been reported in 24 countries and territories in the region, as well as in Cape Verde and Samoa. No locally-transmitted cases of Zika have been noted in North America, but cases are being reported in returning travellers from the Americas. These imported cases could result in local spread of the virus in the U.S. and Canada.

This is what the WHO is trying to avoid. At this time, the CDC has issued a “Level 2” alert, according to which travellers must exercise caution when travelling to affected areas.

6  What Are the Symptoms?

Zika initially causes mild symptoms in the infected person. The symptoms of infection are as follows:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint Pain
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain

The incubation period is unknown, but is likely a few days to a week. For people who do get sick, the symptoms may be quite mild. In fact, you may not even realize you’re sick at first. Studies show 80% of people affected with the virus don’t even feel ill enough to suspect anything is wrong. In fact, in most people, the symptoms aren’t much worse than the common cold.

This Is Rarely a Deadly Virus

The Zika virus rarely warrants a hospital visit, and, thankfully, death is very rare. Let’s not confuse Zika with Ebola. Ebola is deadly and caused more than 11,000 deaths in the outbreak from 2014 to now. While Zika is serious for expectant mothers and unborn babies (we’ll discuss this more below), it remains relatively mild to almost everyone else. 

5  How Is It Diagnosed?

A simple blood test will confirm the Zika virus. Also, the collection of saliva and urine during the first few days after the onset of symptoms can also be helpful. The symptoms are similar to dengue fever and chikungunya – diseases that are spread through the same mosquitos that spread Zika. Because of this, resist the urge to go online and self-diagnose. Come on, we all do it.

Instead, see your health provider if you have spent time in the above-mentioned affected areas and develop symptoms within two weeks of travelling. You may feel funny going to the doctor about a headache or muscle pains, but it’s better to be overcautious if you have travelled recently. He/she will appreciate your concern.

4  Who Is at Risk?

Anyone who has travelled to the Americas or other affected areas of the world is at risk of contracting the Zika virus. Anyone with a compromised immune system, including the elderly, children, and pregnant women (in all three trimesters), is at particular risk of contracting the infection.

Like we stated before, most people (even including the elderly and children) will develop common cold-like symptoms. Of course, the disease affects everyone to a different degree. But, it is pregnant women who bear a much heavier risk than anyone else affected, because the potential damage is higher. 

While the ‘damage’ is not currently scientifically proven, the potential that Zika causes birth defects is enough to keep away from it. 

3  Do Pregnant Women Have to Worry?

This is a difficult one. Until more is known about the Zika virus, the Centers for Disease Control issued a warning for pregnant women in any trimester to postpone travel to Zika-prone areas. This includes women who are trying to become pregnant. More research is needed to determine whether the virus can cause birth defects, such as microcephaly.

Microcephaly occurs when a baby’s head is too small for his body. Having a small head can cause developmental issues and sometimes death. There is simply not enough evidence to support any of these theories.

If you are pregnant and develop any symptoms within two weeks of travelling to a country where the Zika virus is prevalent, see your healthcare provider. Because the effects of transmitting the virus to unborn babies are unknown, it’s best to err on the side of caution and steer clear of areas of the world where outbreaks have occurred.

This Much We Do Know

The Zika virus is believed to remain in the blood of an infected person for only a few days to a week. The virus cannot cause infections in an infant that is conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood.

2  What Treatments Are Available?

Currently, there is no vaccine available for the Zika virus. This may be in the works, as the virus is related to yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis, which there are currently vaccinations for. At this time, you simply have to treat the symptoms. Mosquito-exposure prevention is key.

  • Get plenty of rest. Now is the time to stay home from work and put your feet up.
  • Drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration.
  • Medicine such as acetaminophen can be taken to relieve fever or aches and pains. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Aspirin or ibuprofen should be avoided in pregnancy. Also, they should be avoided until similar viruses like dengue fever can be ruled out.
  • Avoid mosquitos if at all possible in the first week of acquiring Zika, as the virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites.

These measures can not only help you feel better, but help prevent the spread of the virus.

1  What Can Be Done to Prevent the Zika Virus?

The best prevention for contracting the Zika virus is to steer clear of mosquitos. I know, easier said than done when on vacation, right? How can you possibly avoid being bitten? If you’re just longing to go for that sunset walk on the beach, you still can, but follow these precautions:

  • Wear long-sleeved pants and shirts.
  • Try to stay in air-conditioned areas or a screened room at night when possible.
  • Use EPA-registered bug repellent with DEET when outdoors (but spray over your clothes and not directly on your skin).
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items, such as pants, tents, socks, etc. Treated clothing can remain treated after a few washings. Do not use permethrin on your skin.
  • If you are sleeping outside, sleep under a mosquito net for protection against the bugs.

The important thing with any outbreak – regardless of how severe – is to remain calm. Panicking will not help anyone, let alone your unborn baby. Because so much is unknown about the effects (if any) on an unborn fetus, it is best to err on the side of caution and steer clear of certain parts of the world until it is safe to travel there.

If you insist on visiting affected areas, be vigilant about avoiding mosquitos. You can still enjoy that wonderful “babymoon” with a little bit of effort taken along the way.

Amid the hysteria that inevitably surrounds any pandemic (sometimes, justified), try to remain clear-headed and focus on collecting information to help you make decisions about travel – just like you are now!

We hope that you find this article helpful in advancing in your research of this newly-famous virus! Scientific and geographic information about Zika is abounding daily as brilliant minds chase this mosquito-spread disease, so continue checking in until some of our lingering questions find solid answers. Travel safely!

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