The Zika virus has been in the news and is definitely something to be aware of. This is especially true for women who are pregnant, and also for anyone who is living in an area where a Zika virus outbreak has occurred.
The Zika Virus is Not New
Zika is not a brand new virus that appeared from out of nowhere. It was first discovered in 1947. The virus is named after the Zika forest in Uganda. The first human cases of Zika were reported in 1952.
In May of 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert about the first Zika virus infection in Brazil. On February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern.
How is the Zika Virus Spread?
One way the Zika virus is transmitted to people is through a bite from an infected mosquito. More specifically, the virus is being spread by Aedes species mosquitos that have been infected. These kinds of mosquitos prefer to bite people.
A pregnant woman who is already infected with Zika near the time of delivery can pass the virus to her newborn around the time of birth. A pregnant woman who has been infected with Zika can pass the virus to her fetus during the pregnancy. A man who is infected with Zika can spread the virus to his sex partners.
What are the symptoms of Zika?
Some people who are infected with Zika won’t have any symptoms at all. Others will have mild, nonspecific symptoms such as a rash, fever, or joint and muscle pains.
Does Zika Cause Microcephaly?
The answer to that question is unclear. We know that Brazil has experienced a significant outbreak of the Zika virus since 2015. We know that Brazilian officials have reported an increase in the number of babies who are born with microcephaly. Researchers are still studying the link between Zika and microcephaly.
We know that microcephaly can be caused by other things, including changes in the baby’s genes during development and also by certain infections that a mother has during her pregnancy. A small study that was done in Brazil indicates that Zika might cause other birth defects.
Preventing Infection from the Zika Virus
No vaccine exists to prevent Zika virus disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that people take steps to prevent mosquito bites. That advice is also for people who have already been infected by Zika (so the virus will not spread to others). The CDC also recommends the use of condoms to prevent sexual transmission of the Zika virus.
Image by Tom on Flickr.
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