With a name like a Bond villain's and no known prevention nor treatment, it's no wonder the Zika virus has caught the attention of the tabloid press. But what is it really, and are we at risk?
Zika is spread by the Aedes species of mosquito, which also brought mankind the dengue and chikungunya viruses. These hardy bugs can survive indoors and out, and the World Health Organization has warned that every country in the Americas with the exception of Canada and continental Chile are havens for the insects.
Virologists have been unable to determine exactly how the virus was able to migrate from Uganda in the 1940s, or indeed how it has been able to spread so quickly now. Twenty-one countries and territories have reported Zika cases since the outbreak first hit the region in May 2015.
How will you know if you've been infected by Zika? You might not, ever. According to the Center for Disease Control, only 1 in 5 people infected will ever show any symptoms.
So why care? For starters, there have been reports in the past of Zika patients developing the serious auto-immune disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Researchers are also currently investigating a possible connection between maternal Zika infection and infant microcephaly. This is a neurological condition wherein a baby's head is much smaller than normal, and can can contribute to seizures, mental retardation and other health issues. Since October 2015, Brazil has seen an increase in microcephalic births by a factor of ten.
Those who are symptomatic of Zika rarely evince conditions severe enough to require any hospitalization. Symptoms include headache, fever, conjunctivitis, vomiting, rash, joint pain and muscle pain -- all of which can last up to a week.
Although there is no treatment, the CDC recommends that Zika patientsrest, increase their fluid intake, and use medications such as acetaminophen and paracetamol for fever relief. They are recommending against aspirin use until dengue fever has absolutely been ruled out, due to the risk of hemorrhage.
With no vaccine yet available, we must all be diligent to both avoid the virus, and avoid spreading it if there is a chance we might have contracted it. Everything you might use to avoid being bitten by your ordinary garden variety mosquito will work against the Aedes species. That includes mosquito netting, avoiding areas with standing water, and mosquito repellent. The CDC recommends using products that contain contain IR335, picaridin, or DEET. Once bitten and having contracted Zika, it is imperative to avoid being bitten by another mosquito during the first week of infection, to prevent the further spread of the disease.
Of course, avoid travel to any of the current Zika “hot spots.” As of January 22, 2016, these are:
If travel to any of these countries is unavoidable during the current crisis, please discuss your visit with a health care professional to make sure you have the most up-to-date information available.