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A to Zika: What You Need to Know

ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExperts
Wellness & BeautyPost Category - Wellness & BeautyWellness & Beauty - Post Category - HealthHealth

Answers to some of those Zika Virus questions

Recently the news (and social media) has been full of stories about the Zika-virus outbreak that is plaguing the Americas at present. These stories, usually accompanied by pictures of babies with microcephaly, are enough to make most of us swear off traveling forever and keep our precious children safe. But let’s take a closer look and see what the experts say about this outbreak and what we can do to prevent it from spreading.

What is Zika and where is it found?

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that is closely linked to Dengue fever, yellow fever and West Nile fever. Currently, there is an ongoing Zika virus outbreak in Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean; the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the virus is “spreading explosively” and has declared Zika virus and its associated complications a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

There has been a few cases found in the United States as well, but only in people who have traveled to other countries where this disease is found.

At present there has been no known cases of Zika virus in the UAE.

Why all the concern about Zika?

Although Zika virus is generally a mild disease, there has been reports of congenital microcephaly (babies born with shrunken head and immature brain development) and miscarriages in pregnant females that contracted this disease. There has also been an increase of Guillain-Barré syndrome (condition that causes muscle weakness and paralysis) in areas with Zika virus, but scientists have been unable to make a definite link between the two.

How does the virus spread?

Zika virus is transmitted to humans primarily through the bite of a certain species mosquito. It can also spread from a pregnant mom to her fetus and sexual transmission is possible (but rare).

What are the symptoms of Zika?

As mentioned above it is actually a mild disease, and many people have no symptoms at all. Symptoms usually occur 2-12 days after the offending mosquito bite and include:

  • Low grade fever
  • Maculopapular rash
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Arthralgia (joint pains)
  • Headache

What should I do if I think I have Zika?

If you have any of the above symptoms, please see your doctor and mention if you have been to Zika endemic area in the last few weeks. If that is the case, blood will be taken and sent for further testing. Most likely the doctor will also test for malaria, Dengue and other similar diseases.

If you haven’t traveled anywhere recently, it is unlikely that further tests will be necessary.

Is there any treatment?

As there is no specific treatment for Zika virus, only symptomatic treatment is advised. Get some rest and drink lots of fluids. You can also take Paracetamol for pain and fever. Do not take anti-inflammatories (for example Aspirin, Brufen, Voltaren) unless prescribed by a doctor as it can cause bleeding in people with Dengue fever.

And if I’m pregnant?

If you are pregnant and have traveled to an area with Zika infection please contact your doctor immediately. If you don’t have any symptoms, no blood tests will be done but regular ultrasounds will be advised to look for signs of microcephaly as well as calcification of the fetal skull.  If you show any symptoms within two weeks of travel, further blood tests will be done. If your blood test is positive for Zika your doctor will consider amniocentesis, for fetal Zika virus testing.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) authorities are still investigating the link between Zika and microcephaly. But women who are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant should take extra care to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

Should breastfeeding moms be concerned?

According to the US Centre of Disease Control (CDC) there are currently no reports of infant contracting the virus through breastfeeding. And because of the benefits of breastfeeding, mothers are encouraged to keep nursing even in areas with known Zika exposure.

What are the traveling recommendations?

At present there is no official travel warning or ban, but the CDC has advised pregnant women (or women planning on getting pregnant in the near future) to postpone traveling to Zika-prone areas until more is known. If that is not possible, please inform and discuss this with your doctor and prevent mosquito bites as much as possible.

How can I prevent contracting the virus if I am traveling to a Zika-prone area?

The best way to prevent it is to avoid the mosquitoes that carry the virus, and you can do that by:

  • Staying inside during the daytime, very early morning hours and the few hours before sunset
  • Staying in buildings with screens and air conditioning
  • Wearing shoes, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outside
  • Wearing bug spray or cream that contains DEET or picaridin (avoid DEET on babies younger than 2 months)
  • Draining any standing water if possible.

Please do further reading (see below) if concerned and discuss any questions with a health care provider. As little is actually known about this virus, new research are being done every day and more information becomes available regularly. Currently there is no vaccine but hopefully that will change in the near future.

References and further reading:

  1. Zika virus disease: Questions and Answers, from the World Health Organization www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika
  1. Zika virus: information for pregnant women, as well as traveling information from CDC www.cdc.gov/zika/index
  1. UpToDate Patient information: Zika virus: www.uptodate.com/contents/zika-virus-infection-the-basics

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Keep healthy and stay safe!

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