You’d have to be living under a rock these days to not have heard about the Zika virus that is currently sweeping through the Americas. Though symptoms of the infection itself are relatively minor among the healthy and already born, the scare factor is high – especially among women.
What is it?
The Zika virus was first isolated in Uganda in the 1950s and is transmitted by a specific species of mosquito. The virus is related to dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile virus. The symptoms are generally relatively mild and can include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Only 1 in 5 people who get infected will actually get sick. For this reason, many people never even know they have the active virus. If present, symptoms usually begin within a week of being bitten by an infected mosquito.
Why the big concern?
The awareness and fear of Zika virus continues to grow as the media latches on to the sensational aspects of the threat to the unborn children of infected mothers, with some media outlets going so far as to compare Zika to Aids and Ebola. Both are diseases which share Zika’s rapid and unexpected spread, leaving medical professionals and researchers scrambling to gather information and develop testing and treatment protocols as the epidemic develops.
Rarely the Zika virus can lead to the development of a dangerous neurological condition known as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). According to the Centers for Disease Control, GBS is a “rare disorder where a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes, paralysis.”
What should women do?
As mentioned earlier, a more common and much more worrisome problem associated with Zika virus is its threat to the unborn children of infected mothers. The virus has been linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly – a condition in which a newborn’s head is much smaller than expected compared to babies of the same age and weight. Because understanding of the virus and its connection to the higher cases of birth defects is still evolving the CDC cautions that pregnant women and women who plan to get pregnant in the near future take a few special precautions:
- Postpone travel to areas where Zika virus has been documented. The CDC provides a link for travelers to stay abreast of developing infectious situations and locations.
- If they must travel to one of these areas, remain in constant contact with their doctor.
- Take strict steps to avoid mosquito bites during travels.
There is no treatment or vaccine for Zika virus. If you suspect you may have been infected with the Zika virus your doctor will order blood tests to look for presence of the Zika virus or other viruses in the same viral family such as dengue and chikungunya.
Until and when the virus is confirmed the best course of action is to treat the symptoms much in the same way you would for any other virus.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Take analgesics, such as acetaminophen, to treat fever and pain.
- Avoid aspirin or other non-steroidal pain medications.
Your best bet in any developing contagious outbreak is to keep informed from reputable sources. The Centers for Disease Control, the World Organization Health and the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) are all updating their website information daily as new information is gathered and new tests become available. The information on these websites can help women and their babies stay connected with the most up-to-date recommendations and safety precautions.
Zika Virus Disease Q&A. (2016, February 04). Retrieved February 05, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/zika/disease-qa.html