The warm weather is in full effect. Sunshine is out, people are camping and out on the lake, and the mosquitos are biting! Most mosquito bites are harmless unless the mosquito that bit you was infected with the Zika virus. This virus was confirmed in the Western Hemisphere only a couple years ago and has not entirely gone away yet. Let us review what precisely the Zika virus is and how it can affect us.
Zika is a virus that is spread by an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitos are known to bite during the day and night. Once a person is infected, it can be passed to others through unprotected sex or from a woman to her fetus. This can be very dangerous considering there is no vaccine or medication for Zika. In most cases, Zika won’t show any symptoms, or will only show mild symptoms.
To get a proper diagnosis, one needs to do a blood or urine test. If you are showing signs, they would include one or all of the following: fever, rash, headache, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), and muscle pain. The virus remains in the blood of the infected person for about one week. However, once you have been infected, you are likely to be protected from being infected again in the future. You should visit a healthcare provider if you are showing any of the above symptoms for diagnosis after visiting an area with risk of Zika, especially if you are a pregnant female.
Zika can be extremely harmful to a pregnant woman. A woman infected with Zika can spread the virus to her fetus causing severe congenital disabilities. Microcephaly is one of the most common congenital disabilities. This is when a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same age and sex. Often, these babies have smaller brains, which may not have developed properly. Congenital Zika Syndrome is another congenital disability. Babies with this birth defect can be described by the following features: Severe microcephaly where the skull has partially collapsed, decreased brain tissue with a specific pattern of brain damage, damage (i.e., scarring, pigment changes) to the back of the eye, joints with limited range of motion, such as clubfoot, too much muscle tone restricting body movement soon after birth.
For those babies born with Congenital Zika Syndrome, it is recommended they receive screenings and tests checking for eye and other health problems. A study performed in Brazil showed babies 19-24 months of age had trouble sitting independently, feeding, and sleeping. Seizures and hearing/vision problems were also experienced. It is important to know that not every pregnant woman infected with Zika will have a baby with congenital disabilities. For women who are looking to have a baby in the future, there is no risk of congenital disability related to the Zika virus once the virus has cleared from the woman blood. To be on the safe side, however, couples should use condoms or refrain from having sex for at least six months after traveling to an area with high risk of Zika, infected or not.
Thus far in 2018, there has been no local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission reported in the continental United States. Areas with the risk of Zika is most of South America, Africa, parts of Asia, The Caribbean, Central America, The Pacific Islands, and Mexico.