All winter long we counted down the months, days and hours until summer. We longed for meals in our backyards, or on our balconies. We dreamed of weekends at the cottage, and meals on a cozy restaurant patio. As we enjoy and plan our summer weekends and holidays, it’s hard to escape the frequent news reports on the growing risk of Zika virus. What do you need to know?
What is Zika Virus?
The World Health Organization explains that: “Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in monkeys through a network that monitored yellow fever. It was later identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.”
The virus has become a global issue and a real concern, as the risk expands over time. The current outbreak is mostly limited to Latin America and the Caribbean, however recent reports of Zika cases in the United States and Spain indicate an expanding list of affected regions. Since there aren’t any vaccines against the virus, understanding how it’s spread is key to prevention.
How does Zika Virus Spread?
The CDC has outlined a couple of ways that are known methods of contracting the disease. Mosquito bites from an infected mosquito is one common way. An important fact to keep in mind concerning mosquito bites is that although we may assume that mosquitoes are worse at night as they sneak up on us in the dark, mosquitoes infected with Zika virus tend to bite the most during the day–though they are still a risk a night.
Zika virus can also spread through unprotected sex. The CDC has listed some tips on its site in various ways to protect yourself.
It is important to regularly review the CDC travel warnings since they update their website on an ongoing basis and list the regions most affected by the virus. Some of the places mentioned include parts of the Caribbean and some areas of South and Central America. The risk of contracting Zika in those high-risk areas is far greater, so the comprehensive list provided by the CDC is a handy resource to have when planning your vacation.
What are the Symptoms?
The most common symptoms include fever, pain and/or discoloration of the eyes, skin rashes and joint pain, according to WebMD, yet only a small percentage of people actually experience any symptoms. The CDC reports that symptoms are fairly mild, and if experienced, they are not usually bad enough to cause the infected person to seek treatment.
Zika virus may not result in serious complications in many people, but it poses a dangerous risk to pregnant women since it can be especially harmful to the baby. It can cause birth defects that affect the brain, often referred to as congenital Zika syndrome. The fact that symptoms may not be present in many women infected with Zika, coupled with the dangers of the virus to the unborn baby, a new emphasis on better screening for pregnant woman has been approved and implemented by the CDC.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most people recover within one week, which is important to know, considering a vaccine to protect against Zika virus does not exist. Pregnant women, however, are the exception since the virus can cause miscarriages and other serious complications.