All about the Zika Virus

By March 9, 2016Blog
Zika Virus related word collage

Zika Virus InfographicThe Zika virus, declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organization, is all over the news right now. But what is it? We’ve got answers.

What is the Zika Virus?

There is a frightening link between babies being born with very small heads, brain damage, and Zika. It is transmitted by mosquito, and is related to dengue fever, yellow fever, and West Nile. Up until the outbreak in Brazil in May, Zika was only common in Africa and Asia. Now that it has made it to the West, it is spreading rapidly, as not many people have any sort of antibodies built up against the virus.

What does it do?

By itself, the virus doesn’t seem to cause much harm to a healthy, non-pregnant individual. Some develop temporary paralysis when exposed to the virus, but for the most part it has no symptoms. It’s a silent infection and it’s hard to detect. Since it’s so new, and so closely related to other illnesses, it can cross-react with those tests, which results in a misdiagnosis. The only true test is to send off a sample to an advanced lab for molecular tests.

How is it transmitted?

Zika is transmitted by mosquito. As of right now, there are only three documented cases of sexual transmission, and two of those involved blood. There are still a lot of unknowns regarding the transmission of Zika, but the C.D.C has issued guidelines that suggest “pregnant women avoid contact with semen from men who have recently returned from areas with Zika transmission.” The C.D.C. also recommends the use of condoms just to be on the safe side.

Why is it causing brain-damage in newborns?

The experts are not 100% on whether or not Zika is actually causing the unusually small heads, microcephaly, in newborns. There has been an increase in reported cases of microcephaly in affected areas, but all of the evidence is still only circumstantial. As a general rule, pregnant women should avoid areas that Zika has been reported.

Where is Zika now?

Central America, South America, and the Caribbean are all areas that the C.D.C. has listed as areas were Zika is on the rise. Here is a full list. There are 107 reported cases in the US, in these states. It is worth noting that all of the US cases are associated with travel, which means that the people who contracted Zika were in a country where it was more widespread. At this time there aren’t any locally transmitted cases – which is good news! That means it doesn’t transmit to others very easily.

If you are pregnant and have been in an area where Zika has been reported, talk to your doctor. They may recommend that you get tested for Zika in order to prepare for any complications.