How to Prevent Zika Virus

With the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro just having ended, it’s easy to forget about the deeply troubling health issue that overshadowed most of this year’s lead up to the Games. Zika virus started getting attention last year, with the peak in January 2016 when travel advisories were issued by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for areas that were being heavily affected by the virus. This includes many countries in South America, Central America, and Oceania.

While it’s tempting to worry about Zika virus making its way to the United States, it’s important to realize that there have been relatively few cases in the continental USA, and of that small number, an even fewer number have resulted in any significant symptoms. If you’re worried about contracting the Zika virus, read on to see how to best protect yourself.

What is the Zika virus?

Zika virus was discovered in 1947. It is spread two different ways — the most common way is from certain types of mosquitos to humans through their bite. Only the Aedes family of mosquitos carry the virus, so cases of Zika are highest in areas where these mosquitos breed and grow. The other way that is is spread is through penetrative sex — a person infected with the virus will spread it to their partner through either semen or vaginal fluid.

Tacio Philip Sansonovski / Shutterstock.com
Tacio Philip Sansonovski / Shutterstock.com

What are the symptoms?

A healthy adult who is infected with Zika virus may not experience any major symptoms at all — in fact, most people who get Zika virus simply feel like they’ve come down with a minor fever, and may have a rash.

A small portion of people infected develop Guillain–Barré Syndrome (GBS), which causes temporary muscle weakness. Patients diagnosed with GBS frequently need to be ventilated to assist with their breathing, as the sudden muscle weakness that affects their body can cause their breathing muscles to collapse. Although GBS is fatal in 7.5% of patients, the group most at risk when infected with Zika virus are pregnant women.

dimid_86 / Shutterstock.com
dimid_86 / Shutterstock.com

If the symptoms are so mild, why are so many people worried about Zika virus?

Even though 80% of people don’t even develop symptoms if infected with Zika virus, a pregnant woman can easily pass the virus on to her fetus, and in unborn babies it can cause major birth defects like microcephaly, resulting in a baby born with an improperly developed brain.

Researchers still aren’t sure why only some babies develop birth defects after being infected with Zika virus, and why others are spared.

EmiliaUngur / Shutterstock.com
EmiliaUngur / Shutterstock.com
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