In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil and on Feb 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Local transmission has been reported in many other countries and territories. The Zika virus likely will continue to spread to new areas.
The Zika virus is scarier than Ebola for a couple of reasons. Ebola was determined to originate primarily from West Africa. Therefore, its origins were easier to trace. Passengers coming into the U.S. from West Africa and surrounding areas were screened at airports before being allowed to board planes. Specific areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission is often difficult to determine and likely to change over time.
Symptoms of Ebola include high fever, severe headache, weakness, abdominal pain and unexplained hemorrhaging. If untreated, it can lead to death. Most people infected with Zika virus don’t have symptoms. However, fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain and headache have been linked to the virus. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines to educate the public about Zika, how it is spread, who is at the greatest risk and how to prevent infection.
Zika is spread when a human is bitten by an infected mosquito. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections. Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week but it can be found longer in some people. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.
Symptoms may not seem to be a cause for alarm, but its effects on pregnant women and newborns can be devastating. Zika can spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and has been linked to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly. Other problems have been detected among fetuses and infants infected with Zika virus before birth, such as absent or poorly developed brain structures, defects of the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth. CDC recommends that pregnant women take special precautions and try to avoid traveling to areas with Zika. If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.
There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika virus, although mosquito repellent could help. Zika victims are advised to get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and take fever and pain relieving medication such as Tylenol®. Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
So far, there are no known cases of Zika virus in the U.S. Travel alerts have been issued in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, Pacific Islands and South America.