First diagnosed in 1947, the Zika virus is commonly spread to both humans and animals through the bite of an infected mosquito. It can also be sexually transmitted or passed on by contaminated blood transfusions. The virus was most recently reported in the United States in Miami, Florida in July of 2016. From there, it spread across the continental US with reports of the virus now in all 48 states. Almost all of the cases occurred because of travel; the mosquitoes were transported on clothing, in cars, in luggage, etc. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika an international emergency in 2016 and it has now been reported in 75 countries worldwide.
The Zika virus is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other diseases such as Dengue fever, Yellow fever, and the West Nile virus. In general, symptoms are not dangerous for most people and include skin rashes, joint and muscle pain, fever, red eyes, and headache, all which generally lasts fewer than seven days. Many people may not even be aware they are infected.
However, pregnant women have every reason to be concerned. Research is revealing new and different ways that Zika can endanger unborn children. Severe birth defects of babies born to infected mothers include microcephaly and other abnormal brain development. An infection can also cause miscarriage.
How The Zika Virus Spreads
High humidity and heat create the perfect habitat for mosquitoes and assists the rapid spread of this virus. Ideal Zika breeding grounds are rice farming lands and any land near or below sea level in humid climates. Open, stagnant water, road drainage systems, water fountains, and goldfish ponds are also perfect homes for mosquito breeding.
To stop the spread of the Zika virus, it is imperative to eliminate these breeding grounds. Reducing their habitat means removing standing water, as well as maintaining trash disposal, spraying pesticides, putting screens on open windows, or adding netting around beds to reduce bites.
Precautions To Avoid Zika
Unfortunately, there is no current vaccine for Zika and no prescriptions to ease the symptoms of the virus. The only suggestion from health professionals is for bed rest, plenty of fluids, and acetaminophen (not aspirin) for fever and aches and pains.
The health community suggests avoiding mosquitoes if you are currently pregnant or plan to become pregnant soon. The World Health Organization has also linked infections in adults to Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Obviously, the best way to avoid getting the Zika virus is to not get bitten in the first place. Take precautions when traveling to mosquito infested areas: wear plenty of bug repellent, wear long clothing to cover your arms and legs, sleep with netting around your bed, and put screens on the windows of your home.
Although only one new case has been reported in the United States in January, many countries around the world continue to struggle with Zika, making it just as important as ever to stop this dreadful disease.