Few people in the United States had even heard of Zika just a few short months ago, but it’s now exploded as a major health threat with cases in Florida, South Carolina, and Texas, just to name a few. So what exactly is the Zika virus, and why should you be concerned?
Zika is hardly a new virus, just new to large-scale public awareness. This mosquito-borne virus was first discovered in Uganda in 1947 in connection with Yellow Fever. Cases since then have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific, though until recently it was considered a very rare disease.
Health Impacts of Zika
Most people impacted by the Zika virus will experience rash, fever, muscle and joint pain, and headaches that last up to a week. While these side effects are surmountable and rarely require hospital attention, the potential long term side effects are not. Recent outbreaks in Brazil and French Polynesia have caused the health authorities to report neurological and auto-immune complications related to the Zika disease.
While the relationship between Zika and these conditions are not yet fully understood, there’s no denying that there has been a huge spike in microcephaly in Brazil. Microcephaly is a serious birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The presence of Zika can be confirmed with a blood test, and standard treatment is mild. Just drink enough water, rest, and use common pain and fever medicines for comfort. There is currently no vaccine readily available.
Pregnant women who suspect Zika should seek medical attention immediately given the still unknown threat of microcephaly.
How to Avoid Zika
Just like other mosquito-borne illnesses, Zika can be prevented by using insect repellent, covering skin with light-colored clothes, and using screens in windows or mosquito nets while sleeping. The mosquitos that spread the Zika virus are attracted to standing water, so it’s vital to empty and clean containers that hold water.
It’s also suggested to avoid traveling to locations with known Zika problems, like Brazil.