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Zika – What You Need to Know

Written by S.O.

Posted on February 18, 2016 at 5:35 pm

Pixelated Zika

Zika is a virus of the Flaviviridae family that is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. It has been likened to the Dengue and West Nile viruses which are both contracted from the same type of mosquito. 

Prevalence

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the first documented human case of Zika was in Uganda in 1952. There have been various outbreaks since then in over 20 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and other areas of the Pacific. Unlike in some continents, the virus has been well contained in North America. There have only been 31 documented cases of Zika in the United States and none of them were contracted locally, only by those who had recently traveled to highly infectious areas such as Brazil.

Zika Symptoms

Luckily, Zika is not known to be a deadly virus. Only about one fifth of people who contract Zika will exhibit any symptoms at all, and symptoms that are present are generally mild, lasting for about a week. These include low-grade fever, rash, mild joint and muscle pain and headache. There has been a form of temporary paralysis called Guillain-Barré syndrome associated with Zika as well, but it is quite rare.

Pregnant Women – Be Extra Cautious

The worst suspected complication of Zika concerns pregnant women. Though further research is underway, medical scientists have established a connection between Zika and the rise of a previously rare fetal neurodevelopmental disorder called microcephaly. Babies born with microcephaly have a smaller, deformed skull and often have cognitive impairment due to their underdeveloped brains. 

What Are Authorities Doing About the Issue?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), aside from working to develop a Zika vaccine, experts are:

  • Prioritizing Zika research
  • Bettering laboratories across the world to detect and handle the virus
  • Enhancing surveillance of Zika outbreaks and potential complications
  • Working to control Aedes mosquito populations
  • Preparing clinical follow-up care for those infected with the virus.

How to Protect Yourself

As with any mosquito-carried virus the number one preventative measure is avoiding mosquito bites, especially when traveling to highly infectious areas. Use insect repellant, wear clothing that covers your skin, and sleep in tents with screens or mosquito nets when exposed to the elements. The WHO advises to cover or frequently clean containers that hold fluids such as flower pots, as mosquitos can easily breed in those environments. The immunocompromised should be especially cautious, as they may be more vulnerable to contracting any virus. 

Treatment

There is no vaccine developed yet for Zika, and authorities warn that there may not be one for at least a year or two. Infected people rarely require hospitalization, and can usually overcome the virus with plenty of bedrest, lots of fluids and acetaminophen-based over the counter pain relievers. However, should you become infected with Zika and your symptoms don’t improve within a week, you should consult your doctor (or one of our highly skilled DocChat physicians).

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