News coverage has been saturated with reports and updates on the Zika virus as of late. But what does that mean for the average guy living in the U.S.?
“Anyone living in or traveling to an area where Zika virus is found—who has not already been infected with Zika virus—is at risk for infection," says Lucileia Johnson, an infectious disease doctor from the Cleveland Clinic. Her suggestion: "All travelers check with their primary care provider for travel recommendations and visit the CDC Travelers' Health site for the most updated information. There isn’t a vaccine to prevent Zika; the best way to prevent diseases spread by mosquitoes is to avoid being bitten.”
We've compiled the most up-to-date information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the following pages so you don't have to. Here's everything you need to know:
What it is and how it's spread:
Zika virus is, yes, a virus spread from person to person through mosquito bites, and there has been one case in Texas where the virus was sexually transmitted, CNN reports. During the first week of infection, the virus is present in the blood.
What the symptoms are:
About one in five people infected with the virus actually become ill. But the most common side effects are fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes (conjunctivitis), muscle pain, and headache, which are similar to those of dengue and chikungunya (diseases spread through the same mosquitoes that transfer Zika). These symptoms should appear within a few days to a week after exposure—but the CDC says the incubation period isn’t known exactly—and should last for several days to a week as well. Deaths are rare.
The biggest concern is the potential impact on babies developing in the womb. Since October, there have been around 3,500 reported cases of microcephaly, a condition where babies are born with very small brains in Brazil alone, according to the BBC. UPDATE: Florida State University researchers just discovered the Zika virus is directly targeting brain development cells, in as little as three days after exposure, effectively stunting the cells' growth, according to a press release.
How it’s diagnosed:
Zika virus can be detected and diagnosed through blood tests. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we mentioned above, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. If you’ve recently traveled to a country or area where Zika is prevalent, make sure this is known. (More on this in a bit.)
How it’s treated:
There is no cure for the Zika virus, and no medications or vaccines can prevent the infection. To treat your symptoms, however, you can do the following, the CDC says:
- Prevent dehydration with plenty of fluids.
- Relieve fever and pain with acetaminophen, BUT do not take aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen; anti-inflammatory and non-steroid drugs can increase your risk of hemorrhaging if you have dengue instead of the Zika virus.
- Avoid mosquitoes for the first week of illness and symptoms (i.e. stay indoors) to prevent spreading the virus.
*No locally transmitted Zika cases have been reported in the continental U.S., but there have been cases of returning travelers, which means the virus can (and likely will) spread through the nation.
In the Americas…
U.S. Virgin Islands
In the Pacific Islands…
How it's prevented:
- Use insect repellents since mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite mostly during the daytime. (Ones containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, lemon eucalyptus oil, and para-menthane-diol provide long-lasting protection, the CDC says.)
- Wear long sleeves and pants when weather permits
- Empty standing water from pots and buckets
Luckily we're in the midst of winter, so mosquitoes aren't a huge problem in the U.S., but take care if you're traveling internationally and speak with your heathcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.