A new report from the CDC suggests 279 pregnant women in the United States are infected with Zika virus. For most people, Zika is not harmful—in fact, many victims exhibit no symptoms at all—but for these women, the disease poses a huge risk of miscarriage or a severe birth defect called microcephaly. What makes the virus even more challenging to identify is that it can feel like many other diseases. For instance, a high temperature could be caused by Zika but you could also be infected with influenza. How can you tell if your fever is a symptom of Zika or something else?
As a mosquito-borne disease, a person catches Zika after being bit by a vector, in this case an Aedes aegypti species of mosquito. While the symptoms of the infection can pass within a week or so, Zika can pose serious health risks for pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant, for instance loss of pregnancy or microcephaly, a severe birth defect where the baby is born with an underdeveloped brain and head.
As summer rolls in, mosquito populations are on the rise making the likelihood of infection higher, especially in America where there have been no reported cases of local vector-borne Zika—meaning none of the 279 women infected with Zika were bit by mosquitos in America.
Even if pregnant women avoid bug bites, Zika can also be sexually transmitted, which is why partners of pregnant women have to be especially vigil about preventing mosquito bites and looking out for symptoms.
The most common symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, headache, and nausea. That is a long list of pretty generic symptoms, right? In fact, many of those symptoms, even a few combined, could be mistaken for the flu, a common cold, or other kinds of infection.
When it comes to a fever, it can get tricky to narrow down the culprit to Zika. Human beings have an average body temperature of 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees C). Most doctors would say a person has a fever if their body temperature reaches 100 degree F (38 degrees C) or higher. Infections do not cause fevers; Your body causes them when it detects an infection. In fact, by raising your body temperature enough, a fever is able to kill off certain bacteria and viruses that may be sensitive to hotter (ahem) weather.
While there is no way of knowing if Zika caused your fever or if it was another disease, if you experience an unusually high temperature and you have been bitten by a mosquito or have travelled to a Zika-affected region, it is important you report to your doctor if you are feeling the least bit poorly.
Zika can only be diagnosed by laboratory testing—so no WebMD M.D.’s here, please. The tests will look for the presence of Zika virus RNA in bodily fluids such as blood, urine or saliva. It is important, especially if you are (or live with/are partners to) a pregnant woman, that you familiarize yourself with the symptoms of Zika and what they mean.