7 Things You Should Know About the Zika Virus
Study up to get a handle on your risks
In case you've missed it, the Zika virus is causing mass media coverage- and mass panic. But with all the warnings on travel and best prevention practices buzzing around the airwaves, it's hard to decipher what you need to know about the Zika virus. We've got you covered.
1. It's transmitted to humans by mosquitoes
Through the bite of an Aedes species mosquito to be exact. This is the same species that transmits dengue fever, which is a major cause of illness and death in the tropics. Aedes mosquitoes are aggressive biters and are usually most active during the day. They become infected when they bite someone with the virus, then they spread it to other humans.
2. It can also be transmitted through blood or sexual contact
While evidence of this was previously limited (there are a couple of documented cases where the Zika virus had been transmitted through a blood transfusion and found in semen even long after it has disappeared from an infected person's blood), a new case of Zika acquired through sex in Texas is proof that Zika can be sexually transmitted from men to women. The latest case of a couple in NYC suggests it can also be transmitted from women to men. To be safe, always use a condom. (Have better sex with one of these five condoms.)
3. It could cause paralysis
Evidence here is limited too, but the World Health Organization just released a report investigating a possible link between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barre, a rare paralysis syndrome that occurs when your immune system goes off the rails and starts attacking your nervous system. Guillain-Barre has historically been known to strike patients after coming down with influenza or other viruses.
4. It's most worrisome for pregnant women
Zika is particularly scary for pregnant women as it's been linked to major birth defects and can be transmitted from mother to fetus and even mother to newborn at the time of delivery (although this is pretty rare). "The major concern with Zika virus and pregnancy is possibly a link to a condition known as microcephaly," says Niket Sonpal, M.D., associate clinical professor at Touro College of Medicine in New York City. "With this condition, the baby's head is much smaller than expected, which can lead to many neurological problems." (Pregnant? Try these 26 yoga moves for moms-to-be.)
5. It originated in Africa and is spreading rapidly
Until 2007, there were only a handful of known human Zika cases. But in 2015, the virus spread eastwards across the Pacific hitting Central America, the Caribbean and South America, where it's approaching pandemic status.
6. It's causing travel bans
The CDC is currently warning against travel to 14 countries in the Caribbean and Central and South America, including Brazil, Mexico and Puerto Rico. (You can get the full list here). If you're travelling to any of the endemic areas, take extra precautions against mosquito bites with insect repellent and mosquito netting. Reconsider your trip if you're pregnant.
7. It's probably not that serious for most of us
Severe effects of the Zika virus are rare for non-pregnant women, according to the CDC. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes) with symptoms typically lasting from several days to a week. And only about 1 in 5 people who contract the virus will actually get sick from it. "For people who do get sick, the illness is usually mild and self-limited. Rest, getting enough fluids, and time will take care of it," says Sonpal. "If you don't get better after a few days, see your doctor right away."