The Zika virus is becoming a worldwide pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. The U.S. cases are dramatically increasing, along with a new discovery about its transmission. Health officials have declared a health emergency for parts of the U.S. and issued precautions you can take.
It has recently been determined that the Zika virus has spread by sexual contact. In Dallas, health officials said a local resident is positive for the virus contracted by sexual intercourse from a person who had traveled abroad in Venezuela.
Florida has enacted a health emergency statewide. Pregnant women are given a special warning, as the virus is causing thousands of cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect in which babies are born with unusually small heads and incomplete brain development.
The virus is spread by infected mosquitos found in the southern hemisphere, in humid climates where mosquito’s thrive. Now, the World Health Organization is projecting it “spreading explosively” into the Americas, first into the Gulf States, where humidity is high.
“It’s spreading really fast,” said Scott Weaver, the director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “I think [the Zika virus] is going to be knocking on the doorstep in places like Florida and Texas probably in the spring or summer.” — via Vox
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 it is likely a few days to a week.
If you have any of these symptoms and have had contact with high-risk people, those who have traveled abroad, or you live in the southern states, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Death is rare, but the Center for Disease Control is only learning of the spreading of the virus by bodily fluids, and not all is known about what damage the Zika virus can do.
Because the virus is spread by mosquitos and having sexual contact with an infected person, precautions from the Centers for Disease Control include:
- Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535. Always use as directed.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women can use all EPA-registered insect repellents, including DEET, according to the product label.
- Most repellents, including DEET, can be used on children aged >2 months.
- Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents). You can buy pre-treated clothing and gear or treat them yourself.
- Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.
One added precaution that is new is the sexually transmitted, blood/body fluids precautions. This includes not coming in contact with any bodily fluids, including semen, saliva, blood, and vaginal secretions. Women thinking of becoming pregnant should seek medical advice if there is a chance either they or their partner are high risk.
Pregnant women are at the highest risk of complications, and it’s advisable to see your obstetrician immediately if you fear exposure, due to the high rate of birth defects associated with the Zika virus.
Treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is as follows:
- No vaccine or medications are available to prevent or treat Zika infections.
- Treat the symptoms:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Take medicine such as acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain.
- Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen. Aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided until dengue/zika can be ruled out to reduce the risk of hemorrhage (bleeding). If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.
- If you have Zika, prevent mosquito bites [PDF – 2 pages] for the first week of your illness.
- During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites.
- An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.
Today, it is found in people traveling abroad, coming back to the U.S., and infecting others via bodily fluids, usually sexual contact. However, the Zika virus is going to dramatically spread into the United States starting in the springtime when the weather starts to warm up, with Florida already experiencing this health emergency. It will become more prevalent in other southern states, near the Gulf, where mosquitos thrive. Although, with the promiscuous nature of our society today, it may quickly be spread and seen elsewhere.
[h/t Washington Post]