Turn on the television or log onto the internet, and you’re going to be bombarded with frightening images and news about the Zika virus. Yet, despite all that coverage it’s easy to feel confused.
That’s why we’ve gathered together the 8 most frequently asked questions about the Zika virus in one easy to understand guide. No spin, just real answers and solid information about a serious health concern.
1. What is the Zika virus?
While it seems like the Zika virus is new, it really isn’t. In fact, it was first discovered in monkeys in Africa in 1947, and in humans in 1952. From the 1960s to the 1980s, it would show up occasionally in Asia and Africa, but symptoms were mostly mild. It wasn’t until 2007 that there was the first major outbreak of the Zika virus in humans.
Zika became a global concern in 2015, when it spread throughout Brazil. It first showed up in the United States in 2015, as well. In 2016, Zika was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization.
2. How do you get Zika?
Until recently, it was believed that the only way to contract the Zika virus was through a mosquito bite – and a very specific mosquito at that. The Aedes mosquito was the only known carrier of Zika, and they live in tropical areas.
The Aedes is still the primary source of Zika, however, there are a few other ways to contract Zika.
Perhaps most importantly, Zika can be transmitted through sexual activity. A man carrying the Zika virus can infect his partners through semen. Also, you should be aware that the virus seems to stay in semen longer than it does in blood.
Zika can also be transmitted from a mother to her baby during pregnancy. The first trimester is a particularly vulnerable time, but the virus can be spread at any point in the pregnancy.
Since Zika is found in the blood stream, it can also be transmitted through blood transfusion.
3. What are the symptoms of Zika?
The truth is that symptoms of Zika are usually mild. Some people may not even know they’ve been exposed.
For people who do experience symptoms, they tend to be very minor and resemble a low-grade flu or cold. Be on the lookout for these signs:
- Mild rash or skin irritation
- Low-grade fever
- Red eyes
- Muscle aches and/or stiff, achy joints
And again, they probably won’t be severe, so don’t expect a major virus that wipes you out for a couple weeks. In fact, symptoms – if they occur at all – usually only last a few days.
4. How do I protect myself from Zika?
The single most important thing you can do to avoid contracting the Zika virus is to not travel where it is spreading. Stay away from the tropics and South America this summer if at all possible, especially if you’re pregnant (more on that in a moment).
However, if you must travel or you just want to take precautions, use common sense steps to avoid mosquito bites. Wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into your socks or boots. Avoid standing water. Make sure you have window screens and bed netting (or air conditioning!) that don’t have holes in them. And be sure to use insect repellant.
At this point, all the cases of Zika in the United States have been travel-related, so mosquitoes haven’t become a problem, yet. That may change, however, as the weather warms up.
If you want some extra protection against biting mosquitoes here at home in the U.S., but don’t want to use a chemical bug repellent you can tray a naturally-derived option made from Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.
Or for other biting bugs you can easily make your own natural bug repellent by following the recipe found .
5. Why are they warning pregnant women about the Zika virus?
Although the Zika virus is not too much of a threat to the general population, researchers have learned that it can cause a life-threatening birth defect known as microcephaly in unborn babies. If a pregnant woman gets bitten by a mosquito carrying the Zika virus, she can pass it along to the fetus through her blood stream.
Unfortunately, this is not the only way a baby can contract Zika. Since the virus lives in a man’s semen, Zika can be passed along during conception or at any stage during the pregnancy.
Given this, pregnant women, women considering becoming pregnant, and the men involved with them need to take extra precautions to avoid the Zika virus.
- If you are thinking about getting pregnant, have traveled to an area with a Zika outbreak, but do NOT believe either of you were exposed, you should still use condoms or abstain from having sex at all for 2 months.
- If you are thinking about getting pregnant, have traveled to an area with a Zika outbreak, and DO think one or both of you may have been exposed, wait 6 months before trying to get pregnant.
- For men, if your wife is pregnant and you have any chance of having been exposed to the Zika virus, abstain from having any type of sex for the rest of the pregnancy.
6. If I’m past having children, do I still have to worry about Zika?
Honestly, not too much. In otherwise healthy, non-childbearing adults, Zika isn’t much of a problem. As we said, many people never even know they’re sick. And when symptoms do develop, they’re minor.
You may have heard about link between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome, though. In rare circumstances, viruses and other infections can result in a syndrome known as Guillain-Barré syndrome, or GBS.
When a person has GBS, their immune system turns on their cells. The result is weakness and, occasionally, paralysis. GBS is typically temporary, and most people make a full recovery.
Since GBS is a potential – if rare – result of Zika, everyone should take reasonable precautions against getting infected. At the same time, if your childbearing years are behind you, please don’t panic if you get a mosquito bite.
7. Is there a treatment for Zika?
At this point, there is no specific treatment for Zika. Until very recently, it wasn’t much of a health concern.
You can, however, treat the symptoms the same way you treat any cold or flu. Get plenty of rest. Drink plenty of fluids. And generally go easy on yourself.
8. Should I avoid traveling this summer?
If you’re pregnant or planning on getting pregnant, yes. It’s that simple. Stay away from areas where Zika is spreading or expected to reach. Here in the US, that includes the Southern States, the Mid-Atlantic States, and the District of Columbia.
If you aren’t pregnant AND don’t plan on getting pregnant, or your wife doesn’t plan on getting pregnant, you’re probably just fine to travel. Go ahead and take that vacation you’ve been planning and use common sense precautions against mosquito bites..
Obviously, the decision is yours in either case, but neither underreacting nor overreacting is helpful when dealing with Zika.
There’s so much information out there it’s sometimes hard to figure out whether the Zika virus is the plague to end all plagues or a relatively minor nuisance. But the truth is neither underreacting nor overreacting is helpful when dealing with Zika.
Still have questions? Don’t wait another second to protect your family. Download our Free Zika Virus Survival Guide today.