The Zika Virus — Here’s What You Need to Know
Like SARS, swine flu and Ebola before it, the Zika virus has gotten worldwide attention while emerging as a new health crisis.
Spread through mosquito bites, the Zika virus, which has exploded in Latin American countries, results in fevers and rashes, but there is no treatment or vaccine for it. Problematically, more than three-quarters of those people who have the virus do not show any symptoms, making it tricky to fight.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, "the most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week."
While the virus tends not to be serious or long-lasting, pregnant women are urged to be especially careful, since the virus can cause birth defects, such as brain damage and small heads, in babies.
More than 2,100 pregnant women in Colombia reportedly have the Zika virus.
Dr. Michael Belfort, obstetrician/gynecologist-in-chief at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women and a professor at Baylor College of Medicine, says any woman carrying a child needs to be prepared to check herself out if she's traveled to one of the potentially high-risk countries.
“Anybody who’s pregnant, who has traveled in the last two weeks to any of those countries on the (federal) list, needs to be tested. And every single woman now going into see her OB should be prepared to talk about her travel history.”
Further, a CDC spokeswoman said, “For the average American who’s not traveling, this is not something they need to worry about,” but “for people who are pregnant and considering travel to the affected areas, please take this seriously."
The Zika virus has caught the attention of the World Health Organization, which will meet Monday to discuss it, amidst predictions three to four million new cases could spread to the Americas annually. The WHO will discuss whether it should declare a state of emergency.
The Zika virus itself dates back to 1947, but it only started crossing international boundaries last year.