The Zika virus has made global news as it brought deaths, birth defects, and numerous health concerns. It has created problem after problem, with no clear solution or end in sight. Even now, with Zika having been around for a while, there are issues going on every day. This is true in several countries – including the United States. Zika is a killer and a threat to public health. Understanding the symptoms and finding a treatment solution quickly can help to keep you alive, reduce the risk of spreading, and, if pregnant, reduce the risk of major birth defects within your unborn child.
Mosquitos are the primary culprit for the spread of the Zika virus. They are the carriers, though there are other ways that the disease can spread. The three ways to contract the Zika virus are:
Mother to infant during pregnancy
These are the only ways that you can transmit or get the virus. For most people, the cause is the mosquitos. While only a very small percentage of mosquitos carry the virus, the ones that do have brought mass hysteria, death, and health problems for thousands of people worldwide. In Brazil alone, where the Zika virus has had the largest impact, over 100,000 confirmed cases have been reported, though the actual number of effected individuals may be more than double that. This is not counting the number of infected people in other parts of the world, like the several thousand in the United States.
All of these cases are over a two year period. The Zika virus began roughly two years ago, in 2015, and the disease has spread and brought disaster in that time. All of its effects, including the deaths and birth defects, have been happening since 2015, and continue to happen today.
The expected source of the virus is the French Polynesian islands. The assumption is that the virus arrived in mid- to late-2014, during one of the sporting events. Someone from the French Polynesian islands carried it with them to Rio de Janeiro during the event, where they were then bit by a mosquito and the virus carried. It was not until early 2015 that we began to see the full weight of this, creating the epidemic. Due to the similarities between the viruses from the different areas, it is assumed that this is the case.
The majority of areas affected by the Zika virus are those that have a large mosquito population. Brazil has been hit the hardest, as stated above, but it is not the only place with confirmed cases. Nearly every country with a large mosquito population has had some infections. Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and plenty more South American countries are on the list. For America, the state hit the hardest is Florida, where mosquito populations are at their highest. If there is a place that attracts mosquitos, it is most likely at a high risk of spreading the Zika virus.
Another contributing factor to the spread of Zika and the high number of infected individuals is the poor health care systems in place in many areas. Brazil is a perfect example of this, as one of the biggest problems at Zika’s height was managing the disease, treating it, and handling the outbreak in general. Brazil was not equipped with dealing with the Zika virus – and it showed. A poor, inefficient healthcare system turned a relatively low risk virus into an epidemic. It played a large role in keeping the virus alive and allowing it to spread as far as it has.
Those at Risk
Anyone can contract the Zika virus. It does not discriminate against or prefer any certain type of individual. Any person can contract the virus and fall ill because of it. However, there are certain people who have to watch out more than others do – pregnant women. While every person has an equal rate of getting the disease, pregnant women face higher risks to their unborn children because of it. As such, the CDC and every organization recommends that pregnant women remain clear of any area where a Zika outbreak has occurred. This is for the safety of them and their unborn children.
Symptoms of Zika Virus
For the most part, Zika is a nuisance. It is a threat to public health, especially for pregnant women, but there is a low risk of death involved for adults. The symptoms are relatively minor, though problematic, and go away after a short amount of time. The symptoms most experience are:
Muscle pain and headaches
The last symptom is less common, but is still a symptom of the Zika virus. For the average person, this will last up to a week. It is a concern, just not one that requires hospital attention or any major treatment. That is not true in all cases, as deaths and other serious reactions have occurred. It is a case-by-case deal, where you will have to figure out the best plan of action based on your own ordeal. The average person will experience flu-like symptoms, those mentioned above, for a few days to a week and then get better. Afterwards, there will be little to no risk to one’s health. Since the virus cannot strike the same person twice, those who have been infected and are now okay will not have to worry.
Pregnant women will experience the same above symptoms, but there is a greater risk to the fetus. Zika virus infections in the fetus may result in severe birth defects and death. The largest risk that Zika poses is to pregnant women for these reasons. Symptoms can range from minor to major, but they can all cause complications with the fetus. Problems due to the Zika virus include:
Underdeveloped heads and brains
Eye and hearing defects
Other brain defects
The health risk to fetuses is massive. Pregnant mothers put their unborn children at risk when they expose themselves to the ZIka virus, something that is not always avoidable. The risks facing unborn children are lifelong, and may cut their life short significantly. Children may pass early or struggle throughout their lives, requiring serious and constant medical attention and assistance. Health organizations strongly recommend that pregnant women remain out of Zika-infected areas to reduce the risk of infection. While the mother may not face any major or serious risks, at least they are unlikely to, their unborn child will. The only way to eliminate the risk of Zika-caused illnesses is to eliminate the risk of Zika infection.
If you are in an area with the Zika virus, your best bet is to protect yourself. Since the spread is primarily through mosquitos, you will want to avoid mosquito bites. Doing so is not always a simple task, but there are things that you can do to lower your chances of a mosquito bite.
When going out:
Apply insect repellent to yourself. Use products that are safe, effective, and known to prevent mosquito bites.
Wear clothing that covers as much of your body as possible. You do not have to go out in head-to-toe gear, but long sleeves and long pants are a good option. Using clothing-specific treatments is another good way to protect yourself outdoors.
Watch when you go out and where. Mosquitos are most active during the day, so your likelihood of a bite goes up with the sun. Try to remain out of mosquito areas when your chance of a bite is highest.
When staying inside:
Put on the air conditioner and fan and have screens on any open windows or doors. You want to avoid the mosquitos getting in and you want to eliminate their ability to move when in. With the air flowing, the mosquitos will not have the strength to fly, at least not that well.
Use mosquito netting and screens to keep mosquitos out. Over your bed and, especially, over any bedding for young babies is essential.
These are going to be your best options for staying safe. Since the major source of the Zika virus is mosquitos, you will have to take steps to avoid mosquito bites. This is not an easy task, as anyone in mosquito-ridden areas knows, but it is necessary when there is a high risk of Zika exposure in your area. Limit your chances of a bite if you want to avoid the Zika virus.
For the other type of exposure, sexual transmission, safe sex or abstinence from sex are your only options. There is no way to protect yourself from the Zika virus through sexual transmission, at least not without a condom. If you have sex, make sure that there is a condom worn. Otherwise, abstain from sex altogether.
These are your only preventative options. No vaccine exists for the Zika virus right now so there is nothing else you can do. No medication or vaccination exists for this; you have to take the steps to protect yourself alone. This means wearing the appropriate clothing and protection, using mosquito repellant, using mosquito nets, and staying in cool and air conditioned areas.
Outside of all of this, you can remain out of or leave areas with known Zika cases. For some people, this is not possible. For those who can leave, or who have the option to remain out of Zika-infected areas, this is the most trusted solution. If it is within your power and ability to leave, or if you do not have to go to the area, then make that happen.
Diagnosis of the Zika Virus
Diagnosis of Zika requires testing and questions through your doctor. While your doctor may use your location, travel history, and symptoms to gather a guess of Zika, it is not certain until the test results come through. This is because the Zika virus is similar to several other illnesses out there, including other mosquito bite-related illnesses.
To make sure that you are infected with the Zika virus, the doctor will take either a blood or a urine test, or both. These tests will show whether you are an infected individual or not. The doctor may perform an array of tests to make sure that you have Zika and that there are no other illnesses present.
Treatment of the Zika Virus
After learning that you have the Zika virus, you will want to find a treatment. Sadly, no treatment exists at this time. No vaccination, medicine, or treatment plan is available for individuals dealing with Zika. Nothing is in line to come out, either. During this time, the only thing that you can do is treat the symptoms. Since it goes away after a week, follow these tips to keep yourself comfortable and to limit problems with the virus.
Hydrate yourself and eat healthy foods to keep your body in good shape. A healthier, hydrated you is necessary when you fall ill.
Sleep and remain rested. Do not try to exert yourself or do too much when ill, as that may worsen the symptoms.
Take acetaminophen to for the pain and fever, but stay away from NSAIDs and aspirin.
For the average person, this should be enough to handle the Zika virus. This will keep the symptoms in check and allow you to recover quickly and fully. If you currently take medication or experience complications, make sure to speak with a doctor. It is important that you speak at length about any potential health risks or if problems persist or worsen.
The Zika virus is frightening, becoming an epidemic that has reached across the globe. Dealing with it is possible, though, and necessary. For every person in a mosquito-ridden location or going to one, following the preventative measures can keep you safe. If you suspect that you have fallen ill with the Zika virus, speak with a medical professional and take care of yourself. For the most part, this is something that you can manage – you just have to be careful and proactive about it.