Headlines announcing the spread of Zika virus have probably been showing up on your news feed for months. But what is Zika? And should you be worried about it?
Here's all you need to know about Zika in order to make your summer plans:
- It's not new: You might be surprised to learn that Zika virus has been around since 1947. Its name comes from the area where it was discovered: Zika Forest in Uganda. The reason ZIka has only recently been deemed a public health emergency is because it is now spreading quickly to countries where it previously never existed.
- Pregnant women are most at risk: Zika virus is especially dangerous for pregnant women, because it can cause serious fetal defects. The CDC has now confirmed that Zika causes microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads. The virus has also been linked to Guillain Barre Syndrome and other serious birth defects, but these connections have not been officially confirmed.
- The virus is spread by mosquitos and unprotected sex: Infected mosquitos are the primary culprit when it comes to spreading Zika virus, but it can also be spread through sex with infected males; or from a pregnant mother to her baby. Experts suspect Zika can also be contracted through blood transfusions, but this has not yet been confirmed.
- Zika is now in the US: Hundreds of cases of Zika virus have now been documented in the US, and a portion of those are pregnant women, who are being closely monitored by health officials.
- Beware of visiting countries with Zika: So far, everyone who has contracted Zika virus in the US has gotten it by visiting affected countries or having sex with somebody who has. World health organizations are advising pregnant women or those who plan to conceive in the near future to avoid visiting these countries.
- You can have it and not know it: Because the symptoms of Zika are often mild and sometimes even nonexistent, it is possible that you could contract the disease and not know it. So if you are visiting a country known to have the virus, be sure to get tested if you suspect you may have it.
- There are things you can do to protect yourself: The best way to protect yourself from Ziks is to avoid countries where it is prevalent. Common summer destinations known to have the virus include the Caribbean, and both Central and South America. If you do visit these places, be sure to use EPA approved insect repellent and wear protective clothing; and consult your doctor if you have any concerns following your return.
- You can't get it through casual contact: Zika isn't transmitted through food, water, or casual contact.
- You probably won't die from it: People rarely die from Zika virus; and because its symptoms are similar to those of many other diseases, it can often go undiagnosed or undetected. Most people who contract Zika will be better within a week, and the virus will be out of their blood in about the same amount of time. Experts believe that those who contract Zika are probably safe from future infections.
- But that doesn't mean you're off the hook: Because of Zika's potential to cause birth defects, it is critical that those who are infected know it, and take steps to prevent the spread of the virus to others.