Zika Is Still a Threat
With the nice weather here and everyone trying to make up for lost time, you still have to watch for those inevitable pesky mosquitoes. While getting a mosquito bite is irritating, scratching your itch is the least of your worries.
Mosquitos still carry the Zika virus—and, yes, it remains a concern.
How Zika spreads
The virus is found primarily in tropical and urban environments, and as more people are opting for trips abroad, you may find yourself in a climate ripe with Zika. The risk is especially high for pregnant women, to whom biting insects are more attracted.
Additionally, pregnant women can easily pass Zika to the fetus, which can cause devastating birth defects and permanent neurological conditions. The Zika infection has also been linked to low birth weight, premature delivery, stillbirth and miscarriage.
While Zika is most commonly spread through insect bites, you can also get infected via bodily fluids, such as direct blood contact or during sex. Because of this, it's a best practice to avoid sexual contact with someone who has traveled to a mosquito hotspot. And even more important, to be familiar with the symptoms of infection so you can recognize them early.
Symptoms of Zika
Zika can be hard to track, diagnose and manage because most people do not show obvious symptoms that indicate infection. Symptoms that do arise usually begin within two weeks of being bitten or contracting the infection, and can include mild fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, headache, eye pain or conjunctivitis, abdominal pain, fatigue or general malaise.
Unfortunately, these symptoms can be so general that in many cases, people don't even realize they're sick, and this allows for easy transmission to others, especially to sexual partners. For this reason, it's essential that if any of these symptoms occur, you should contact your doctor to be tested for the virus. And if you test positive, you should alert your sexual partners or anyone else you came into close contact with, as they may also be infected.
There is currently no treatment for the Zika virus, but major research is being carried out toward developing a vaccine. In the meantime, the most common approach is treating symptoms with over-the-counter remedies, such as fever reducers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen.
For most adults, there are no long-term consequences of the Zika virus, but for some, it can cause a neurological complication called Guillain-Barré syndrome. This serious condition causes severe neurological impacts that can result in numbing or tingling in the feet, hands and extremities. Although this condition is extremely rare, and some patients overcome it, Guillain-Barré syndrome can have lifelong effects.
Protecting yourself from infection
The best advice is to avoid contact with the Zika virus. In addition to avoiding locations where Zika is common, you can also take the following precautions. If you must venture outside and you live in an area where this virus is prevalent, use a repellent containing DEET—diethyltoluamide, one of the most common ingredients in insect repellent—as this is more effective than natural alternatives. Also, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants whenever possible, and when sleeping, stay in an enclosed space that uses screens in the windows and doors. It may be necessary to use mosquito netting over the bed to avoid possible insect bites.
Pregnant women should abstain from traveling to Zika hotspots, as there is no guaranteed way to prevent infection. Practicing safer sex habits is essential when interacting with someone who has recently been abroad, especially if they visited a place known to have Zika outbreaks. Do not share sex toys, as coming into contact with bodily secretions on these objects could lead to transmission. If you do share a toy, use a condom on it and change the condom before using it on yourself or your partner to avoid contact with bodily fluids.
You should enjoy the fine weather. And although it's not much of a silver lining, Zika, while highly contagious, is not often deadly. However, getting sick is no way to spend your vacation, and following these precautions can prevent transmission.
As always, if you're worried about a possible infection, hurry along to see a doctor and get tested.