Map of Zika cases in US as of January 01, 2015 – October 12, 2016. Image source: CDC
In recent months, Zika virus has spread through the world and the United States and continues to be a threat to all of us. Winter months are also a peak of travel season. Should travelers worry about Zika virus during this time of the year? The answer is DEFENITELY! UTMB researchers have found that the Aedes aegypti, the mosquito known to carry Zika can pass the virus along to future generations in their eggs. Their eggs have no climate restriction. That means cold & dry winter months won’t be able to save us from Zika’s spread.
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Zika virus was first found in the Zika forest in Uganda by Yellow Fever Research Institute scientists in 1947. The virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, the same type of mosquito that carries dengue fever, yellow fever, and chikungunya virus. A mosquito bites an infected person and then passes those viruses to other people it bites. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night.
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Zika virus is believed to be one of the causes of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Microcephaly stunts a baby’s head growth, causing devastating, sometimes fatal brain damage, and it can result in miscarriage or stillbirth.
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an uncommon sickness of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness, and sometimes leads to paralysis. There are more reported cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome in the Zika outbreak areas. CDC is still investigating the connection between Zika virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
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People infected with Zika virus can have flu-like symptoms including mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache which could last a few days to a week. Keep in mind that many people infected with Zika virus might not have the described symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. Therefore, many people might not realize they have been infected and are the carriers of the virus.
A diagnosis of Zika virus infection can only be confirmed through laboratory tests on blood or other body fluids, such as urine or saliva.
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Zika virus can be transmitted through:
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According to CDC, there are no reports of infants getting Zika virus through breastfeeding. Because of the benefits of breast milk, mothers are encouraged to continue breast feeding their infants to boost their immune systems.
WHO recommended to start breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth and to continue for the first 6 months of life remain valid in the current context of Zika virus transmission.
Photo by Ben White
Even though pregnant women are the most vulnerable and most severely affected by Zika virus, men and women of all ages can be carriers and be affected by the virus as well if being infected. According to CDC, there is a small percentage of Zika virus infected people developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), an uncommon sickness of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness, and sometimes leads to paralysis. The chance is small but the risk is there. So why take the risk? Moreover, the more people are aware of Zika virus and how to prevent it from transmitting to others, the better control of the spreading of the virus.
In January 2016, the government of El Salvador urged women not to get pregnant until 2018 in the effort of minimize birth defects caused by the spread of Zika virus. Officials in Colombia, Ecuador, and Jamaica have also warned women to avoid pregnancy, although only for the next several months.
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As of Oct 17th, 2016, there is still no proven evidence to support the claim that Zika virus stays in the blood stream for a week or 10 days. Given the uncertainty, CDC has issued this recommendation for a safe period to try to conceive if you have traveled to the infected area:
“Men who have traveled to a place with Zika should wait at least 6 months after travel (or 6 months after symptoms started if they get sick) before trying to conceive with their partner. Women should wait at least 8 weeks after travel (or 8 weeks after symptoms started if they get sick) before trying to get pregnant. The waiting period is longer for men because Zika stays in semen longer than in other body fluids.”
Also, use condoms during intercourses if you or your partner have been traveled to the infected areas.
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On August 3rd, 2016, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has launched the first phase of a clinical trial of a vaccine candidate intended to prevent Zika virus infection. That vaccine — dubbed ZPIV for purified inactivated Zika virus — uses a more traditional vaccine approach and depends on dead virus particles.
The 2nd phase of the trials could begin as early as January 2017.
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There is no specific medicine to treat Zika infected disease. Here is what CDC recommends for infected people: first seek medical advice from your healthcare provider or doctors; get plenty of rest; treat fever with acetaminophen or paracetamol ; do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding; make sure you talk to your healthcare provider if you are taking any other medication for other medical condition.
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For travelers to infected areas, make sure to use those precautions above.
1. "Zika Virus Associated with Microcephaly" by The New England Journal of Medicine
2. "UTMB scientists genetically engineered world’s first Zika virus infectious cDNA clone" by The University of Texas Medical Branch UTMB
3. "Zika virus" by World Health Organization (WHO)
4. "Zika Virus" by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)