Common Questions about the Zika Virus - dummies

Common Questions about the Zika Virus

By Kacey Kroh, Abshier House, Abshier House

The Zika virus was discovered in the late 1940’s in Uganda, Africa. The virus is known to spread by mosquitos and, on very rare occasions, through sexual contact. Only recently has the infection spread to the Western Hemisphere. Since the Zika virus has been detected in Brazil and other South American countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declared the virus to be a potential concern. This worry stems from the possibility of birth defects in newborns.

Zika virus under the microscope. [Credit: ©iStock.com/Aunt_Spray]

Credit: ©iStock.com/Aunt_Spray
Zika virus under the microscope.

Now that the infection has become sensationalized by the mass media, many people have been turning to the Internet for information regarding self-diagnosis and treatment advice.

If you believe you may be infected, do not rely on self-diagnosis. Even though the information provided on sites such as WebMD.com may be accurate, self-diagnosis is not a substitution for a visit with your doctor.

Now that you are worried, you probably have a few questions about Zika infection. Here are the most common questions and answers you need to know about the Zika virus:

  • What are the symptoms of the Zika virus?

    The virus is related to dengue, yellow fever, and the West Nile virus. However, for most people, the Zika infection does not have any symptoms or lasting health issues. If symptoms are experienced, they are often similar to those associated with the common cold. In a very small number of cases, men have reported genital pain and blood in their semen.

  • If infected with the Zika virus, what are my treatment options?

    Since the Zika virus often has no symptoms or long-term ill effects, there are currently no medicines available for the infection. The WHO and CDC recommend bed rest, lots of fluids, and an NSAID (ibuprofen) for muscle pain and fever. If you experience more serious symptoms, your doctor will prescribe an anti-viral drug to help you get rid of the infection.

  • How long does it take for the Zika virus to infect my body?

    The average incubation period for the Zika virus is 28 days.

  • If infected with Zika, how long will I be contagious?

    If you have the misfortune of becoming infected, the Zika virus is usually an infection your body can kill naturally. This process typically takes 7-14 days. However, to avoid passing the Zika virus on to a partner, it is recommended that you refrain from sexual activity for the 28-day incubation period.

  • Why are pregnant women at risk?

    Circumstantial evidence connects the Zika infection to an increase in microcephaly in newborns. This means that if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, and have been infected, you may have a child born with this defect. Microcephaly is the development of an abnormally small head and is often accompanied by blindness, hearing loss, and developmental disorders. This defect is not treatable. The WHO recommends that you wait a minimum of two years after infection before trying to become pregnant.

  • How can I be tested for Zika virus?

    Unfortunately, because Zika virus is so closely related to dengue and yellow fever, there is currently no rapid test that is accurate enough to detect the infection. Blood and tissue samples will need to be taken and tested at the molecular level in order to detect the presence of the virus.

  • What areas has the Zika virus infected?

    Infection is common in Africa and Asia and is becoming more common in Central and South America. The virus is rapidly spreading to areas where Aedes mosquitos thrive. These areas include (but are not limited to) Florida, the Gulf Coast, and Hawaii. During the summer, the Aedes mosquito can be found as far north as Chicago and New York.

  • How do I avoid Zika infection?

    There are many preventative steps you can take to avoid the Zika virus:

    • If you plan to have relations with someone in the high-risk group, use protection. This includes people who have lived in, or who have traveled to, Africa, Asia, Florida, the Gulf Coast, Hawaii, Mexico, and Central and South America in the past 30 days. (During the summer months, risk of infection increases in places as far north as the Great Lakes.)

    • If you are hoping to travel, avoid the high-risk areas.

    • If you live in a high-risk area or travel is unavoidable, avoid the outdoors during dawn and dusk as much as possible. Sunrise and sunset are prime feeding times for mosquitos.

    • If you spend a lot of time outdoors during times of high mosquito traffic, wear long-sleeved clothing or clothing treated with chemicals and/or natural mosquito repellents.

    • If you plan to show a lot of skin, a good bug spray can save the day. For example, OFF! and many other repellent brands can be applied to your arms, legs, and neck. Avoid applying any chemicals to your face, even if the manufacturer lists it as okay. DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is the active ingredient in most insecticides and has been linked to respiratory issues, tremors, seizures, upset stomach, and vomiting if inhaled. Do not apply bug spray under your clothing or on children 6 months of age or younger. Wash all remaining repellent off your skin as soon as you no longer need the extra layer of protection.

    • If you do not wish to use DEET or other insecticides, apple cider vinegar, citronella, or eucalyptus can be used as a repellant instead.

      When using bug spray, always follow the safety instructions included on the product label. Also, note that some sprays are more toxic than others. Visit the EPA.gov website for a complete list of toxicity levels and other health-related information.

Keep in mind the risk of being infected by the Zika virus is no greater than that of the West Nile virus. Also remember that your body will likely be able to naturally neutralize the virus. Infection is not as scary as it sounds.

Naturally, if you do decide you want a new bundle of joy, it is always a good idea to know the risks and take all the proper precautions to avoid infection.