Understanding Zika Virus: Symptoms & Travel Recommendations
Although the Zika Virus was discovered over half a century ago, there are still many unanswered questions about it. In light of the Zika outbreak in Central and South America, researchers are trying to determine its exact effects, as well as a cure. You can find regularly updated information about the Zika virus on the CDC website or World Health Organization website.
- The Zika virus is spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito, and has been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO). The aedes aegypti mosquito is commonly found around the Tampa area, especially during the summer.
- As yet, there have been no local reported cases of Zika on the US mainland. ‘Local cases’ means that local mosquito populations have and spread the virus.
- There have been several travel-related cases reported in the US. Travel-related cases are also called ‘imported’ cases. Imported cases may have the possibility of spreading locally.
- People who have the Zika virus should take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites in order to prevent spreading the virus. An uninfected mosquito can bite an infected person and become a carrier for Zika, in turn spreading it to other people and other mosquitoes.
- There is currently no vaccine or medication to prevent Zika.
Symptoms of Zika
The symptoms of Zika are usually mild and last for about a week. Some people do not develop symptoms. Zika is an arbovirus, and its symptoms are similar to other arboviruses such as dengue and chikungunya.
- Muscle and joint pain
- Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
While people very rarely develop complications or die from Zika, new research suggests that Zika may cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a condition that causes the immune system to attack the nervous system. In some cases, this can cause paralysis in patients. However, the chance of this happening is small, and even in severe cases most patients recover within months.
Zika and Pregnancy
There is an undetermined but strong connection between pregnancy and birth defects. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, it’s important to protect your pregnancy. Take precautions to avoid mosquito bites and practice safe sex if your partner has been exposed to Zika.
- Men who have the Zika virus can pass it onto their partners through semen
- The virus is present for longer periods of time in semen than in blood
- Using a condom the right way will prevent transmission of Zika between partners
Yet to Be Determined
- Whether Zika can be spread through saliva or vaginal fluids
- If Zika will affect your pregnancy
- If Zika will harm the fetus
- If your baby will develop birth defects following exposure to Zika
- If women can pass Zika to their partners
- If men who do not develop symptoms can pass on the virus
- If Zika can be spread via oral sex
If you are trying to get pregnant but your male partner has travelled to an area where Zika is active, consult with your healthcare provider first.
What Areas are Affected?
Zika originated in Africa and has made appearances in various countries along the Earth’s equatorial band since its discovery. The current outbreak of Zika has mostly manifested in the Americas.
Recommendations for Travelers
Travelling to a country where Zika transmission is active? Review the CDC’s Zika travel advisories before you go.
- If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
- Use insect repellents and reapply throughout the day.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to minimize skin exposure.
- If travelling with children, cover strollers and cribs with mosquito netting.
- Sleep under mosquito bed netting, which is finely woven net that allows air in but keeps bugs out. Some types include bug repellent.
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin, which is an insecticide intended for fabric and not for skin.
If you do get bitten by a mosquito during your travels, it’s important to protect your community and prevent the spread of the virus. This is especially important in an area with plenty of mosquitoes like Florida!
Take precautions to avoid further mosquito bites the first week of your illness. An uninfected mosquito can become a carrier of Zika, which can then spread through the local community.