Zika Virus – How it Spreads & How to Protect Yourself
Updated February 3, 2016 – New details indicate an alternate means of Zika virus transmission
In recent weeks there has been a growing concern regarding the Zika virus. We at SelectCare Home Care Services of NY have gathered information from a number of international health organizations and wish to provide our community with an accurate description of the virus, how it spreads, and what you can do to protect yourself.
Where is the Zika Virus Present?
The Zika virus has traditionally been found in mosquito populations living in Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. The virus is now making headlines because it has begun to appear in the Western Hemisphere for the first time. The first of these cases was identified in May of 2015 in Brazil. For a complete list of areas where the virus is currently active, please click here.
There have been several cases of people becoming infected outside the United States, then coming back to America and being hospitalized with Zika symptoms. United States health officials say that they have not yet found evidence of infected mosquitos within the United States.
How the Virus Spreads
The Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites. While some other species may be able to spread the disease, the Yellow Fever Mosquito (pictured below) is the most common carrier. An individual can be infected when bit by a mosquito carrying the virus. The virus spreads when another mosquito bites the infected person and goes on to bite another individual.
Update: Just hours after we initially posted this article, several public health organizations indicated that the Zika virus could possibly be spread through sexual contact.
In a recent interview, Center for Disease Control officials suggested that men who have recently traveled to Zika-affected areas should consider using condoms, while pregnant women should avoid contact with semen from men potentially exposed to the virus.
Symptoms and Outcomes of the Zika Virus
Only one in five people infected with the Zika will show any symptoms of infection, and even fewer infections require hospitalization. The number of deaths caused by the Zika virus has historically been extremely small.
If bit by an infected mosquito, an individual can begin to show symptoms several days to a week after exposure. If a person experiences symptoms of the Zika virus, they typically last an additional several days to a week.
Zika virus symptoms include: Fever, rash, joint/muscle pain, headache and conjunctivitis (red eyes). If you are experiencing these symptoms and have recently traveled to one of the countries listed in the above CDC link, it is recommended that you visit a doctor or hospital immediately.
There are many mosquito-borne diseases that present a similar set of symptoms, (diseases like dengue fever and chikungunya) so it is important to go to a doctor for a proper diagnosis, as these other diseases require different plans of treatment.
Zika Virus and Pregnancy
Although the Zika virus does not pose a long-term danger to most people, it is believed that there is a link between Zika virus infection in pregnant women and birth defects – specifically, a condition called microcephaly, in which an infant is born with an extremely small head. This condition can severely impact the well-being of a child’s brain functions.
At this time, the CDC has made specific recommendations for pregnant women. These recommendations include:
– Women in any trimester of their pregnancy are encouraged to postpone visiting any country with an active Zika virus presence
– Women who are trying to become pregnant are encouraged to speak to their health care provider before visiting any country with an active Zika virus presence
– If a pregnant or possibly pregnant woman chooses to visit one of these countries, they are urged to avoid mosquito bites using the following CDC-provided tips
Zika Forecast for the US
There have already been a small number of Zika cases within the United States. However, it should be noted that in all of these cases, the infected person was bit by a Zika-carrying mosquito outside of the United States.
Although it is impossible to forecast if or when the Zika virus will have a larger presence in the continental United States, we can each do our part to minimize the spread of the disease by exercising caution when visiting affected countries and quickly reporting Zika-like symptoms to your healthcare provider if you have recently travelled outside of the country.
We appreciate your efforts to learn more about this health hazard. SelectCare takes the utmost care with the health, safety and comfort of our caregivers and clients and will continue to serve as a conduit of information as the world’s health organizations work to combat the spread of this virus.