Zika has caused an international media firestorm. The relatively new virus has spread from the third world to the Caribbean and now to the United States. The virus has received attention due to its symptoms. It can cause infants to be born with a host of birth defects. Furthermore, it is still relatively unknown how long the virus persists in the human body. Many health professionals believe this amount of time is different for men and women. The CDC is constantly updating their travel advice when visiting endemic areas. Most importantly, pregnant women should avoid traveling to these areas. This will preserve the health of their unborn child. Unfortunately, over 100 people have now been infected with the virus in Florida. With so much information out there, what information should people focus on?
How is Zika transmitted from mosquitos and people? People can contract the Zika virus from the bite of an infected mosquito or through having sex with an infected person. Zika comes from a family of viruses called Flaviviruses. This family is home to yellow fever, West Nile virus, and Dengue Fever. These are all viruses passed from the bite of a mosquito called the Aedes mosquito. Zika is no different. If bitten by an infected mosquito, a person has a high likelihood of contracting Zika. Furthermore, both men and women can pass the virus to another person through sexual activity. In July, the first human transmission on US soil was confirmed in New York City. If someone is having sex with a person with Zika, condom use is recommended. This will minimize the chance that Zika is transferred from one person to another.
Symptoms of Zika are usually mild. This can prevent someone from knowing that they have been infected with Zika. In fact, over 80% of people who are infected with Zika will never show symptoms. For people who do show symptoms, the most common symptoms are fever, rash, and headache. These are symptoms that are common to many cold and flu-like illnesses. This is what makes clinical suspicion for Zika difficult. The symptoms will only last for around a week. This causes people to assume the virus has gone away. Unfortunately, the virus remains dormant in the body for much longer than a week.
The people most at risk for serious complications are unborn children. When pregnant women contract Zika, the fetus is in danger. The most common birth defect is microcephaly. This means that an infant is born with a significantly shrunken head. While the visual impression is striking, the abnormal brain development can cause unknown developmental delays. Specific possibilities include mental retardation, speech delay, movement disorders, and growth problems. The degree of damage is unknown until the child begins to miss developmental milestones.
Research has begun on a Zika vaccine. While there isn’t currently a vaccine or treatment on the market, researchers have begun developing and testing a Zika virus vaccine. With the media attention and quick funding for development of a potential treatment, Inovio Pharmaceuticals has already developed and begun testing an experimental treatment. The hope is that a vaccine will be available for the general public in the near future.
Although Zika is a dangerous virus, information is power. Make sure people are educated on the essential facts around this disease.