Mosquitoes have always been a source of annoyance. Usually we only need to worry about them in the summer, but the Zika virus outbreak is causing people to sweat throughout the world. So, what exactly is Zika? We’re here to help you learn everything you need to know about Zika virus.
Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. The virus has been known to circulate Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Islands. Several U.S. territories have reported Zika transmission, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. While cases of Zika have been confirmed in the U.S., those affected were not infected locally and reported traveling to locations where they contracted the virus.
There are a few ways Zika can be transmitted. The first way is through mosquito bites from infected Aedes mosquitoes. These mosquitoes are mostly active during the day, but they can also bite at night. The mosquitoes contract Zika virus after they bite a person that has Zika in their bloodstream and can then spread the virus to other people through bites. Very rarely, a mother who is already infected with Zika close to the time she gives birth can pass the virus to her newborn. There is a possibility that mothers can also pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy, but at this time, there are no clinical studies that measure the risk posed to the unborn baby if its mother is or has been infected with Zika. There have not been any cases reported of Zika transmission from mother to baby through breastfeeding, and mothers are still encouraged to breastfeed even in areas where Zika is found. There have also been few cases reported of Zika spreading through blood transfusions and sexual contact.
The most common symptoms of Zika virus infection are fever, skin rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain and headache. The incubation period, or the amount of time between exposure to the virus and the development of symptoms, is currently unknown but is likely to be between a few days to a week. The illness is usually very mild with symptoms lasting from a few days up to a week. Usually, Zika does not make people sick to the point that they need to go to the hospital, and very rarely do people die from the disease. Zika virus typically remains in the blood for about a week but could last longer for some people. It’s important to remember that only 20 percent of people infected with Zika will become sick.
The symptoms of Zika are similar to those of dengue and Chikungunya, other diseases spread by the same mosquitoes that transmit Zika. It’s important to see your health care provider or a physician at your local American Family Care location if you develop the symptoms described and have visited an area where the Zika virus is found. Be sure to tell your physician if and where you’ve traveled, as there are specialized blood tests that can detect Zika or other related viruses.
There is currently no specific medicine designed to treat Zika infections, but doctors are focusing on treating the symptoms. Experts recommend those diagnosed with Zika get plenty of rest and fluids and take medicine with acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain. You should not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs when infected with Zika. If you are infected with Zika, be aware of coming in contact with mosquitoes. This is crucial because Zika virus is found in the blood during the first week of infection and can be transmitted from an infected person to a mosquito through a mosquito bite. An infected mosquito can then transmit the virus to other people.
Now you know how the symptoms of a Zika virus infection present, as well as how the virus is transmitted, diagnosed and treated. Next time we’ll discuss the prevention of a Zika virus infection, what pregnant women need to know about the virus and the status of the virus in the U.S. Because so much research is being done on Zika, it’s important that you stay on the lookout for new information regarding the virus.