The Zika Virus is all over the news right now and is causing panic among would-be parents throughout South America. We were curious to know, what exactly is it? How is it spread and what can we do to prevent it?
What is the Zika Virus?
Transmitted via mosquitoes, Zika is an infection from the same family of infections as Dengue, Yellow Fever and West Nile virus. Named “Zika” for the Ugandan forest it was first discovered in, the virus has been common in some parts of Asia and Africa since the late 1940s. Last spring, however, an outbreak occurred in Brazil and has since spread.
The reason that the virus is spreading at such a rapid pace now is because so few people in this part of the world have developed immune defences against it. At this time, it is not expected to spread north of Washington, DC as the mosquito known to transmit the virus is rarely seen beyond the southern United States.
What Effect Does Zika Have on Babies?
This is much tougher to answer. Zika has been blamed for an increase in the number of babies born suffering from microcephaly. The correlation between microcephaly and Zika was made in October when Brazilian doctors began to see a surge in cases of microcephaly. However, at this point, the evidence suggesting the link is all circumstantial. Some researchers have pointed out that it could be a combination of factors and viruses. Others suggest the data is confused as the increased reports of microcephaly are coming from more rural populations of Brazil which may suggest that their baseline population risk was already underestimated.
“It’s not clear that what’s going on in Brazil is linked to the Zika virus. There’s no definitive proof that Zika is causing microcephaly. I believe the hysteria is way ahead of the research or the facts about the pathology surrounding this virus,” said Leslie Lobel, an Israeli physician who has worked with the US military and the Uganda Virus Research Institute. The Argentine organization Doctors in the Crop-Sprayed Towns has also challenged the connection, asserting that the chemical larvicide Pyriproxyfen is instead to blame. The reasoning behind the group’s assertion is simple: No link between Zika and microcephaly has been proved in previous Zika outbreaks and there have been no cases of the birth defect in other countries like Colombia which is also experiencing a Zika outbreak. Previous Zika epidemics did not cause birth defects in newborns, despite infecting 75% of the population in those countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO), however, appears to link the two fairly confidently, albeit with the disclaimer “possible links”: WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in the WHO Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations Plan issued in Geneva: “Possible links with neurological complications and birth malformations have rapidly changed the risk profile for Zika from a mild threat to one of very serious proportions.”
Symptoms Associated with Zika
- About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill (i.e., develop Zika).
- The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.
- The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
- People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika.
- Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week but it can be found longer in some people.
How to Stay Safe and Avoid Zika
It’s a simple matter of avoiding mosquito bites, particularly if you live-in or plan to travel to South America or other countries experiencing Zika outbreak right now.
The CDC recommends avoiding travel to countries currently affected by the outbreak if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. However for people needing to travel to countries where Zika virus or other viruses spread by mosquitoes are found, take the following steps:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women.
- Always follow the product label instructions
- Reapply insect repellent as directed.
- Do not spray repellent on the skin underneath clothing.
- If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
If you have a baby or child:
- Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months of age.
- Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs, or
- Cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
- Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin.
- Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.
- Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See product information to learn how long the protection will last.
- If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
- Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended only to treat clothing.