What is the Zika Virus?

What is the Zika Virus?

Any time the word “outbreak” is used, we are understandably anxious. We are learning more and more about the Zika virus and how it is spread each day.

Here are some basic facts you should know.

Both mosquitos and people can carry and transmit the Zika virus. While the virus was discovered nearly 70 years ago, it didn’t become a widespread problem until 2015. In fact, from October 2015 to January 2016, nearly 4,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly were reported in Brazil. Prior to this boom, there were only 150 reported cases each year.

Microcephaly is a birth defect associated with the Zika virus marked by a notably smaller head size than a normal, healthy baby. As a result of the smaller head size, the babies also have brains that are not as properly developed. The baby’s head stops growing at some point during the pregnancy or shortly after birth. That’s because baby’s heads grow as their brain size increases and those with microcephaly do not exhibit brain growth like a normal baby and as a result, the brain remains a smaller size.

Since the outbreak of the Zika virus, we have seen a rapid increase of babies born with the condition. In fact, as a result officials in Colombia, Ecuador and Jamaica are encouraging women to delay planned pregnancies.

Sadly, there is no way to cure or reverse the side effects of microcephaly and currently no vaccination to prevent the Zika virus.

There is also no cure.

When first discovered, the Zika virus was believed to only be passed through misquotes but now we know that it can be spread from person to person during sexual contact. Those with partners who have recently traveled to infected areas are warned to use protection or abstain from sex in order to prevent transmission.

The mosquito that is responsible for infection is most active during the daytime so unfortunately, the nets used around beds to prevent malaria infection while sleeping are largely ineffective. The best way to reduce the rapid spread of illness is to use insecticides in insect breeding areas.

The beginning symptoms of infection are mild and often mistaken for something else. Typically, symptoms will begin appearing a few days after being bitten and they will continue for somewhere between 2 and 7 days. The most frequent side effects include fever, rash and conjunctivitis. A shocking 80% of those who are infected never exhibit ANY symptoms.

Those who recover from the Zika virus appear to be immune from future infections. These people are currently being studied in the hopes of finding a way to replicate this immunization in a vaccine against the virus.

While it is impossible to completely prevent mosquito bites, the CDC recommends that pregnant women in any trimester postpone their travel to known areas where the Zika virus is present. The CDC is continually updating their website with travel alerts.

For those heavily affected Latin American areas, women are being urged to wait to become pregnant for up to two years to reduce the chance of microcephaly.


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