Zika. It’s a small word causing a not-so-small commotion. Zika is the new world-ending virus, the new Ebola, the new daily email advisory update I receive from various health-related email services. But what exactly is it, how is it spread, and why should you care? Well, let me tell you what is known.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus is not a recent health disruption; rather, it was first isolated in 1947 and has existed since then. Currently, Zika is present across Africa, Asia, and the Americas, including, yes, even us. Well, Texas anyways.
Zika is spread primarily through the bite of infected mosquitos of the Aedes species, and if you look at the following image, courtesy of the CDC, it will show you the locations where the species is prevalent and how it has spread so far. However, the latest news and data shows that as of February 3, 2016, a patient in Texas was found to be infected with Zika through a person who had recently traveled to Venezuela, a country in which Zika is very present, indicating that the virus can be sexually transmitted.
So now that we know what Zika is, how does it actually affect us? What are the symptoms? The WHO states that the symptoms are usually mild and last two to seven days. They include:
- a mild fever
- a skin rash
- aches and pains
About one in five people infected with the Zika virus become ill and this virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week (WHO). While these symptoms do not appear to be so bad for the average person, they spell bad news for an expecting mother who has been infected:the Zika virus can affect her newborn child. There has been a link between pregnant, infected mothers in Latin American countries and their children being born with abnormally small heads as a result of the brain developing abnormally, This phenomena is known as microcephaly.
But I don’t live in Latin America, I am not expecting to get pregnant, and I am not planning to travel to any Zika-infected country, so why should I care?
The way I see it, you should care because the WHO cares. You should care because this is a public health issue. You should care because there is nothing wrong with knowing a little more about something that is prevalent globally, even if it isn’t specifically affecting you. The WHO has declared the Zika virus to be a public health emergency of international concern for the following four main reasons:
- Zika may be linked to birth malformations and neurological syndromes
- the potential for it to spread further internationally given the wide geographical distribution of the mosquitoes that carry it
- the lack of immunity in newly affected areas
- “the absence of vaccines, specific treatments and rapid diagnostic tests
Additionally, you should care because it is almost SPRING BREAK and how many of you are going to Central American countries or to the Caribbean or to South America? Even if you aren’t, I can guarantee you know at least one person that has plans to go to tropical islands and countries where Zika is present for Spring Break. So yes, even though you will not die or get horribly sick, why take a chance of even obtaining the virus? Since there’s no vaccine or medical treatment for Zika presently, the best and only thing to do is prevention. So if you or someone you know will be traveling somewhere where Zika is present, reduce contact between mosquitoes and yourself. According to the WHO prevention guidelines, you should definitely:
- use insect repellent
- wear clothes (preferably light-colored) that cover as much of the body as possible
- use physical barriers such as screens, closed doors, and windows
- sleep under mosquito nets
- empty, clean, or cover containers that can hold water such as buckets or flower pots, so that places where mosquitoes can breed are removed
And with that, I hope you learned a little more about Zika! I completely recommend checking out the CDC and the WHO’s respective websites to find out more!