When the news of the Zika Virus first emerged earlier this year, most parents didn't see it as a great risk to them or their families, especially if they weren't visiting South America. Since learning more about the virus, and since its reach has spread far beyond South America, parents are now trying to be as proactive as possible to protect their families. There are things every parent needs to know about the Zika Virus and, thankfully, we live in a time when that information is right at our fingertips.
Google has been a godsend for parents worried about being able to protect their children from the Zika Virus, or honestly anything else. Access to important information is easily obtainable, and learning what we need to do to keep our families from contracting the virus is as easy as locating a wifi signal. Zika is scarier than we originally thought, but there are precautions parents can take to protect themselves and their kids from the Zika.
Since Zika has spread throughout the Americas, I've been one of those parents frantically typing questions into Google in an attempt to educate myself. Typically, seeking health related topics through a search engine is not recommended, and something I try to avoid because, well, I don't like thinking my kid has cancer every time he spikes a fever. Seriously, the wide array of results (and the spectrum of their severity) create fear and cause unnecessary anxiety and what parent has time for that? Definitely not me. So, in my humbled opinion, I think it's always best to speak with a qualified physician if you have health concerns.
Still, in the case of Zika and as more information seems to be rolling out every day, the more research you do, the better off you'll probably be. Don't be embarrassed if you've logged some time on Google in search for answers pertaining to the scary developments of the virus. Honestly, you're probably just searching for one (or all) of the seven things that every parent has googled (or should Google) about Zika. We're all in this together, right? Right.
What Exactly Is The Zika Virus?
The Zika virus is a disease, primarily spread through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. It's severity is usually mild, so some people may not even know that they've contracted the virus. It is rare for people to die from the virus, but women who are pregnant and contract it could see some very serious (and yes, fatal) birth defects in their babies.
It is typically reported with areas with thick and humid forests, such as South America, tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, though it has been more widespread throughout 2016, reaching many different corners of the world, including the United States. Brazil seems to have seen the worst outbreak of the Zika virus, which is a concern for many fans and athletes that were planning to attend the summer Olympics in Rio.
How Do You Catch The Zika Virus?
Though the most common transmission of the virus occurs through being bitten by an infected mosquito, there are (unfortunately) other ways the disease can spread. The CDC has found that Zika can spread through sexual contact, as men who have been infected with the disease can also transmit it sexually to their partners through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Since the virus is sometimes asymptomatic, a man might be oblivious to the fact that he has it, which poses a problem for his sexual partner (or partners). The CDC recommends that sexually active men use condoms to help prevent others from contracting the virus, especially if their partner is pregnant (abstaining from sex all entirely is also recommended, if a woman is pregnant and her partner has contracted Zika).
Who Is At Risk?
Anyone who has traveled to South America is at risk for Zika, but since the disease has been so widespread, anyone that is at risk of being bit by a mosquito, or has had sexual contact with a man that has been bit, could potentially be at risk, too. Zika is rarely serious, except in the case of pregnant women, so pregnant women, or women who plan to become pregnant, have been cautioned to avoid traveling to many parts of South America and the Caribbean Islands. The list of countries and territories that pregnant women should avoid to keep safe from Zika is a long one: 45 countries and territories so far.
What Are The Symptoms Of The Zika Virus?
In most adults, the symptoms of Zika are very mild. Fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis are among the most common symptoms, though headaches and muscle pain may occur, too. The symptoms typically last one week, but it is believed that the virus stays in the body for a few weeks, even after the symptoms have subsided.
Zika Virus In Pregnant Women
Even if you're not pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, we should all care about the affects Zika has on pregnant women. It has been known to cause miscarriages and serious neurological abnormalities, including babies being born with microcephaly, which can cause serious developmental delays. Women who are pregnant are especially encouraged to take precautions this summer, as Zika has reached so many corners of the world.
What Is Microcephaly?
According to the Mayo Clinic, microcephaly is a rare neurological condition in which an infant's head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex. It is a result of the brain developing abnormally in the womb, or not growing as it should after birth. It can be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors, but the Zika virus has an undeniable link to microcephaly.
Babies born with microcephaly often face serious developmental issues, and there is no cure. Early interventions, such as speech and occupational therapy, can help a child born with microcephaly to overcome some of their delays and help increase their quality of life.
How Do I Protect Myself From The Zika Virus?
If you're not living in an Zika zone, the odds of contracting Zika are fairly slim, but no one wants to have to deal with the symptoms or put others at risk, so it's important to understand prevention. As previously mentioned, Zika can be transmitted sexually, so it's important to practice safe sex, or abstain completely, if your partner happens to be an infected male.
Avoiding mosquito bites is also an incredibly important part of prevention. The CDC recommends wearing clothing that keeps you covered, using insect repellent and mosquito nets, and eliminating any standing water in your surroundings (kid pools, buckets of rain water, etc). Obviously, staying inside would greatly benefit a person, but it's summer time and staying inside (especially with little ones that want to play and explore) isn't always a viable option.
The Zika virus sounds scary, sure, but keeping yourself and family safe from it just takes a little knowledge and preparation. So, you know, thank you, Google.