First H1N1, now Zika? Read about the world’s latest epidemic in TCRN’s FAQ.

Earlier today, the World Health Organization declared Zika a global health emergency. While the virus certainly existed prior to 2015, it is now said to be “spreading explosively” across the Americas.

According to the U.S. CDC:

“Zika virus will continue to spread and it will be difficult to determine how the virus will spread over time.”

What are the symptoms of Zika virus?

Only about one in every five people who have been infected with the Zika virus become ill. Those who do, however, may show the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • rash
  • joint and muscle pain
  • red eyes
  • headache

Symptoms usually last several days to a week, and death is rare.[/td_text_with_title][td_text_with_title custom_title=”Question 2″]

What makes it different from H1N1, Dengue or Chikungunya?

Like Dengue and Chikungunya, the Zika virus is transmitted through Aedes aegypti, a troublesome mosquito which is also responsible for Yellow Fever and Malaria. H1N1, on the other hand, is airborne and transmitted human-to-human.

Nevertheless, Zika does have some unique presentations. Unlike the other diseases listed above, those who develop Zika virus symptoms usually have a low-grade fever and a rash. For more information check out the infographic below.

But I thought Zika virus only affected pregnant ladies. Why should I be concerned?

Zika virus became well-known for its link to a serious birth defect known as microcephaly. This condition means a baby’s head does not develop to its full size according to standards for babies of the same age and sex. Pregnant women are discouraged from traveling to any area where the Zika virus is active.

Microcephaly, however, is not the only effect of a Zika infection. In addition to the symptoms listed above — which can affect men and women of all ages — the Brazil Ministry of Health has reported a positive correlation between Zika cases and an autoimmune nerve condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Similar trends have been noted in both Colombia and Venezuela. That said, scientists have not yet confirmed a cause-and-effect relationship between Zika and GBS.

Where has Zika been found?

[dropcap]A:[/dropcap] Prior to 2015, the Zika virus had been seen in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. The first American case was announced in May of last year in Brazil.

The CDC has published the following map identifying countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission.

The countries affected thus far by the new outbreak are as follows:

  • Paraguay
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saint Martin
  • Suriname
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Venezuela
  • Samoa
  • Cape Verde
  • Guadeloupe
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Barbados
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • French Guiana

While two cases of Zika have been confirmed within Costa Rica, there has been no local transmission thus far.

UPDATE: As of February 2, Costa Rica has now been listed as a country where Zika is in active transmission. The patient is a U.S. citizen who was diagnosed upon return from Costa Rica.

What’s being done to stop it?

Individuals in Zika-active countries are encouraged to use EPA-registered insect repellents and wear long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants to avoid mosquito bites. Dengue prevention tactics — such as cleaning-up or draining stagnant water which otherwise can attract mosquitoes — may also be applied.

One country in particular captured the world’s attention with their response to Zika. According to The Washington Post:

“After more than 5,000 suspected Zika cases were reported last year and in the first weeks of 2016, El Salvador on Thursday took the most extreme stance so far: Deputy Health Minister Eduardo Espinoza urged women to refrain from getting pregnant before 2018.”

Reuters elaborated: “Official figures show 96 pregnant women are suspected of having contracted the virus, but so far none have had babies born with microcephaly.”

On a global scale, the WHO’s declaration of Zika as a “public health emergency of international concern” calls into action both financial and human resources. Prior to the recent Zika outbreak, this designation had only been used for H1N1 (2009), Polio (2014) and Ebola (2014).

What should I do if I suspect I have contracted Zika?

First things first, contact a medical profession. He or she may test for other regional diseases with similar symptoms such as dengue and chikungunya. Unfortunately, once these are ruled out a Zika diagnosis is confirmed, there are no specific treatments available — only symptomatic ones.

Doctors may recommend acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain, but aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories should be avoided. Patients should be sure to drink plenty of water.

Finally, Zika-diagnosed patients should take extra precautions to avoid additional mosquito exposure so as to diminish the potential for further spread.

  • Hi Kirby! This article was really meant to just cover the basics, but I’d recommend checking out some of the embedded links to learn more. Good luck!