Is this going to be a big deal or what? In some areas of the world, it is a big deal, with infants of infected mothers being born with horrible birth defects. But what about the United States? Is it coming here? Let’s see what we know.
The Zika virus is a simple, single-stranded RNA virus transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. This is the same species that transmits Yellow fever and Dengue fever, and it can be found in parts of the southern U.S.
We’re not sure what percentage of people will become infected from the bite of an infected mosquito, but only about 20% of those infected will develop symptoms. These include fever, rash, joint and muscle pains, and conjunctivitis. Not very specific, and easily confused with other viral-type infections. The disease is usually mild, and lasts about a week. There’s no treatment, other than supportive measures such as rest, fluids, and OTC pain medications.
The real concern has been the possible association between the Zika virus and a reported increased incidence of babies born with microcephaly (a small brain). Most of these reports have come from Brazil and are still being investigated.
So how do we diagnosis this infection? First, we need to consider where we’ve been. Has there been travel to a tropical or subtropical region in the western hemisphere or parts of Africa and the Pacific islands? If so, where? And how long ago? The incubation period is short—only a week or so. And again, the symptoms may be absent or vague. If there’s been travel to an area of concern followed by the development of fever, rash, and muscle aches, lab testing can be performed to determine the presence of infection. These studies are not routine, and will need to be sent to specialized testing centers, such as the CDC Arbovirus Diagnostic Laboratory. An answer will likely take days to weeks.
What about treatment? At this time, there is no specific antiviral treatment for the Zika virus. The first line of defense is to avoid travel to areas where we know the virus is present, though this seems to be expanding. Then we need to avoid exposure to mosquitos, if possible. Standing water is their preferred breeding area, and it doesn’t take much. Check out your surroundings for anything that’s holding water and dump it. And lastly, be aware of the symptoms of this disease. Again, this is a mild infection and seldom fatal. The risk is for those of us who are pregnant or who become pregnant.
And with that, here are some points to keep in mind:
– There’s no vaccine to prevent this infection.
– There’s currently no specific treatment.
– If you’re pregnant and have travelled in an area where the virus is known to be present, talk with your doctor and get their thoughts.
– Yes, it’s safe to use an insect repellent if you’re pregnant or nursing, as long as it’s approved by the EPA. (Found on the EPA website.)
– Don’t panic. This issue is continuing to evolve and at this moment there are only a few suspected cases in the U.S., localized to Florida. As with anything else, we need to be aware of what’s going on, keep current with well-documented developments, and let knowledge and reason inform our actions and emotions.