Three confirmed cases of the Zika virus have now been reported in D.C., all from people who have traveled outside of the United States, according to the D.C. Department of Health. One of the three cases came in 2015 and the other two were confirmed this year. All three cases involve people who took trips to Central and South America. One case involved a woman who was pregnant.
While the virus has been fast-spreading in the Americas, it is important to remember that the virus poses no immediate threat to the health and well being for many of us in the United States. It’s also crucial to note that the Zika virus is not an airborne pathogen, which means it’s not contagious. Here are some things you need to know about the Zika virus.
How is the virus transmitted?The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This same mosquito spreads dengue and chikungunya viruses. There is no strong evidence of fluid-to-person transmission, and the virus cannot be passed by skin or respiratory contact or through droplets from a sneeze. But in the wake of news out of Dallas of a suspected case of transmission of the Zika virus through sexual contact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines for how pregnant women should protect themselves from getting infected, if their partner has traveled to an area with active transmission of the virus and has had symptoms. If that is the case, using condoms during sex is an easy way to protect oneself.
If I am pregnant and have traveled to an area where Zika is prevalent, should I get tested?If you are pregnant and develop fever, rash, headaches and have joint pain within two weeks after traveling to an affected country, it’s important to call your health provider right away and discuss your exposure and your travel history. If you’ve had symptoms and traveled to an infected area in the Americas, the CDC will test the serum to determine if the virus is present.
What are the symptoms?Only one in five people infected with Zika virus will have symptoms and become ill. The symptoms are mild and can last several days up to a week. Again, the most common are fever, rash and headaches. There’s no treatment for the virus. The disease has to run its course.
How to protect yourself?If you are pregnant, the CDC recommends that all women postpone their travel abroad to Zika-infected regions. If you’re not pregnant, there’s no need to change your travel plans, but it is important to protect yourself in order to avoid mosquito bites. Mosquito repellents like Deet are the best protection against the Zika virus.
Is their definitely a link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, the birth defect that causes babies’ heads to be smaller than expected?
A lot remains unknown about the Zika virus. We have associations, but there are no definite confirmations. The huge spike in the numbers of children born with microcephaly in the Americas is alarming and is reason for concern. Evaluations and investigations are ongoing in this country and abroad. It’s important that women remain calm and stay informed.
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