Zika virus has effectively infected our headlines – there are more and more reports coming out about where Zika virus is, where it’s spreading and its dangers.
But before the constant news stories about the illness and its serious effect on babies send you into a panic, here are the facts you need to know.
It’s spread by mosquitos
“The virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito,” said Stanley Martin, M.D., director of infectious diseases, Geisinger.
These mosquitoes initially become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus.
Some people infected with Zika don’t have any symptoms
Only one in five Zika-infected people develop symptoms of the viral disease.
“If someone does develop symptoms, they may experience a mild fever, headaches, conjunctivitis, joint pain, and a rash,” Dr. Martin said. “Symptoms typically develop two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.”
Zika may be dangerous to pregnant women and their babies
Although Zika virus may cause very mild symptoms – or even no symptoms – researchers believe it may be causing serious, even fatal, birth defects.
“Researchers believe there’s a link between pregnant women getting infected with Zika virus and their infants being born with microcephaly,” Dr. Martin said.
Where the virus has arrived and rapidly spread, there has been a steep corresponding increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly – Brazil has seen cases of microcephaly skyrocket from about 200 a year to more than 3,000 in 2015. There has also been an uptick in the spread of Zika virus throughout South America, Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands.
“Microcephaly is a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads, typically causing severe developmental issues and even death. There may be concerns about the risk of miscarriage as well." Dr. Martin said.
Babies born with this condition can have a range of other health issues, including:
- Difficulty with movement and balance
- Hearing loss
- Vision problems
- Feeding problems, such as difficulty swallowing
- A decreased ability to learn and function in daily life
- Developmental delay, including problems with speech and other developmental milestones
Additionally, Zika virus also may cause other neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Until there’s more information about Zika virus and its impact on women and babies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all pregnant women in any trimester and women trying to get pregnant avoid traveling to areas where there is an outbreak of Zika virus.
There’s no vaccine or treatment
There’s no vaccine to protect against Zika virus and there’s no effective antiviral treatment.
“Someone infected with the virus can only treat the uncomfortable symptoms through rest, fluids, and medications to relieve any pain or reduce a fever,” Dr. Martin said.
It’s not in the United States…yet
There have been a couple of confirmed cases of people being infected with Zika virus in the U.S., but they became infected while traveling outside of the country. However, there are concerns that infected mosquitoes could eventually turn up in the U.S.
“Only the Aedes species of mosquitoes are known for sure to spread the virus and they’re only common in the U.S.’s southern most states, including Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Hawaii,” Dr. Martin said.