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Everything you need to know about Zika virus

What is Zika

Zika is a virus that got its name from Zika forest in Uganda, Africa. It was first detected in Rhesus monkey in 1947 and was reported in humans in 1952.

Zika is spread through mosquito bites, through the semen of an infected man or from a pregnant woman to her baby. Zika can cause serious problems in pregnancy. The virus has been found mainly in tropical regions of Africa, Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika. Many people with Zika do not even know they have it.

Symptoms

Anyone who lives in or travels to an area with Zika and has not already had the virus can become infected with it. In many cases, Zika does not cause any symptoms or causes only mild symptoms that last several days to a week. Hospitalisation is uncommon because people usually do not get sick enough to go to the hospital and they very rarely die of Zika. Typical symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. Some people will also have muscle pain and headaches.

If you have travelled to an area with Zika and experience these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor or other healthcare provider to see if you have Zika. Make sure you tell a doctor or nurse if you or your sex partner have any of these symptoms.

Diagnosis of Zika is based on your recent travel history, symptoms and a blood or urine test. Your doctor or healthcare provider may also test for similar diseases like Dengue or Chikungunya because mosquitoes are responsible for the spread of these viruses as well.

Right now there is no medicine or vaccine for Zika virus. If you develop Zika symptoms, make sure you rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration and take Acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain. To help reduce the risk of bleeding, do not take Aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs until Dengue can be ruled out.

Ways to protect your pregnancy

Zika virus is catching global attention due to its alarming connection with microcephaly, a neurological disorder in babies being born with abnormally small heads.

For pregnant women the concern is that Zika virus can be passed to the fetus during pregnancy or around the time of delivery. Infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly and other brain problems in babies.

During pregnancy a fetus’ head grows because the brain is growing. Microcephaly occurs when a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth.

There is still a lot we do not know about Zika virus including how likely it is that Zika virus passes to a fetus or baby, or results in birth defects when a woman is pregnant and becomes infected.

The good news is that there are steps you could take to protect yourself and your family during pregnancy. The first thing you can do is avoid travel to areas with Zika. If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your doctor first. If you or your male partner have recently travelled to an area with Zika, talk to your doctor about your travel, even if you or your partner do not feel sick.

The second thing you can do is take steps to prevent mosquito bites. Use EPA-registered insect repellents. When used as directed, they are safe and effective for pregnant and breastfeeding woman. Always apply sunscreen before repellent, and do not spray repellent underneath clothes. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect your arms and legs. Stay and sleep in places with air-conditioning and window indoor screens to keep mosquitoes outside. If air-conditioned and screened rooms are not available, or if sleeping outdoors, sleep under a bed net.

The third thing you can do to protect yourself and your family is to take steps to prevent getting Zika through sex. Zika virus can be sexually transmitted from a male partner who is infected with Zika. Right now we do not know how long Zika virus stays in a man’s semen.

If you are trying to get pregnant and you or your partner travel to an area with active Zika, use condoms for at least 8 weeks before you start trying. If your partner has Zika, use condoms and wait at least 6 months after their symptoms started before trying.

If you are pregnant and have a male partner who lives in or has travelled to an area with Zika, either use condoms every time you have sex, or do not have sex during pregnancy. Not having sex while you are pregnant is the best way to be sure you do not get Zika from sex.

We have gathered everything you need to know about Zika, now it is your duty to take precautions and stay protected from Zika.