If you're anything like me, any time there's a new virus dominating the headlines, you're doing your research to find out as much about it as possible. I need to know how to prevent it, what it is, what it does, how it can spread, literally all the things. Becoming a mom, of course, just made this need all the more real. With Zika becoming more worrisome by the day, and because I live in the south where mosquitoes are as common as McDonald's or Chick-fil-A, I know there important things a southern mom should know about Zika. Call me a worrywart or paranoid or all of the above, but with a daughter who just loves to play outside, I want to know as much about Zika as possible.
To put things in perspective, I was pregnant with my daughter when the Ebola virus threatened the United States, and I was not far from one of the hospitals that treated the U.S. patients with the virus. Since the virus was relatively new to us (as a country and as individuals) there was a lot of confusion and fear. Every time I went into a doctor's office, there were posted signs warning about the dangers of Ebola when pregnant, and things to look for if you contracted the virus. Factual information and education kept my fears at bay but, now, I've turned my attention to Zika. The same fears I felt when I was pregnant, I know fear as a mom.
My daughter and I love spending time outside, but in the south that also means having to deal with those horrible mosquito bites. It means dealing with not only the itchy annoyance of mosquito bites, but also the fear of what the Zika virus can do. To help alleviate fears (most of which are, for now, unnecessary) and feel more prepared regarding the virus, I did a little research of my own to see how dangerous it really is, what it is, what it does, and how to prevent and treat it.
What Zika Actually Is
Zika is a virus that was first discovered in 1947 and was named after the Zika Forest in Uganda. It is typically found in tropical areas, such as the Pacific Islands, tropical Africa, and Southeast Asia. The first known case of Zika infecting a human was in 1952 and, until 2007, only 14 cases of Zika had been reported worldwide (this might explain why you are just now hearing about it).
Sadly, an outbreak began in Brazil in May 2015 and has since affected at least 1 million people in more than 30 countries. In most cases (1 out of 5) absolutely nothing happens to someone who is infected with Zika. Only 20 percent of those infected show symptoms, which typically include fever, joint pain, red eyes, and a bumpy rash. It's rarely fatal, and usually gone in a week.
However, if a pregnant woman has the Zika virus, her unborn baby may develop microcephaly, a severe birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head. The underdeveloped brain can lead to a host of other problems, including behavioral delays, trouble walking, and blindness. There is no cure.
Ways Zika Can Be Transmitted
Zika is typically transmitted through the bite of the Aedes species of mosquito which reside only in a few select locations worldwide. However, it has also been proven to transfer from men to women during sexual intercourse. The virus can transfer in pregnant women from the mother to the baby either during pregnancy or during delivery. The CDC has even speculated that Zika can also be transmitted through blood transfusion, but this has not yet been proven. Once a person has been infected with the virus, he/she can transfer it through other mosquito bites.
Times Zika Is Transmitted By Mosquitoes
If you live anywhere where mosquitoes are prevalent, you know that there's no time or place you can hide from the little creatures. However, since the Zika virus is only found in one specific species of mosquito, there are times that you may be at a higher risk for being bitten and infected, according to the CDC. Aedes mosquitoes tend to come out more at night, increasing your risk to being bitten and infected at night. This does not mean, however, that you cannot contract the virus during the day.
In other words, you don't have to be afraid of every single mosquito you see, or avoid going outside because mosquitos are prominent in your area. The CDC has an updates map of the estimated range of the Aedes in the United States, which does include the south, but that doesn't mean every mosquito you see is carrying Zika.
Where Is The Virus Right Now?
Prior to 2015, the Zika virus was confined to the areas of tropical Africa, the Pacific Islands, and Southeast Asia. However, in the last year, the virus has reached many countries in Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. According to the CDC, the virus has reached the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and potential cases are being investigated in the United States. One case in the Miami-Dade County of Florida has been confirmed according to CNN, but it has not yet been confirmed by the CDC.
Symptoms To Watch For
The CDC states people with Zika tend to have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, explaining why there may have been so few cases reported prior to 2007. The most common symptoms include: joint pain, fever, rash, and red eyes. Other symptoms may include headache and muscle pain.
The Affects Of Zika
According to the CDC, Zika tends to not be severe enough to send those infected to the hospital. Very rarely have there been any deaths caused by the virus. The symptoms may last for up to a week, though some people have reported symptoms for much less time. The largest concern regarding Zika is the affects that occur when the virus is transferred to a baby while still in the womb or during delivery. However, in some rare cases there have been reports of Zika triggering an uncommon sickness in the nervous system called Guillian-Barré Syndrome.
The Affect On Current Pregnancies
According to the CDC, Zika has been known to cause a variety of birth defects including defects of the eye, impaired growth, and hearing deficits. It has also been know to cause birth defect of the brain known as microcephaly, as well as other severe brain defects.
There has been no evidence, however, that contracting Zika during one pregnancy would cause birth defects during any future pregnancies. It has also not yet been discovered if the child with birth defects from the virus can pass any remaining symptoms on to their children during future pregnancies.
How To Prevent Zika
The CDC said the best ways to prevent Zika are to use Environment Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents (except on children 2-years-old and younger), wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, use condoms or do not have sex, keep mosquitoes outside and remain inside a room with air conditioning, and sleep under a mosquito bed net if air conditioning is unavailable.
Specific mosquito netting for strollers do exist, however, if you choose to use these nets, follow the instructions (you know, just like anything else).
Treatments For Zika
As with any disease, get plenty of rest and drink plenty of liquids to remain hydrated. The CDC said you may take medicines such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain, but do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. If you are already taking other medicines, as always, consult with your healthcare provider prior to taking any additional medications.There is no known vaccine or medicine specifically designed to combat the Zika virus.
After The Symptoms Subside
After the symptoms subside, you may be wondering if you can get the virus again or if it lingers and you can pass it on to others. As far as research by the CDC has found, the virus will have no lingering effects on you. Instead, it will act similar to the chicken pox in that once you have the Zika virus, you will not get it again. That, my friends, is good news.
You Shouldn't Considerably Alter Your Life (If You Don't Want To)
It can be scary to live in the south and know that you're, potentially, more at risk than other states. However, the virus is extremely rare in the United States, so unless you have been traveling to more affected areas, you shouldn't worry. if you're pregnant, take precautions and speak to your physician, but feel free to enjoy your pregnancy. You don't have to keep yourself locked inside your home, out of fear. After all, there are too many Chick-fil-A's around to deny your pregnancy cravings the chicken sandwiches you know you need.