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Zika virus: All you need to know

Published February 10, 2016 by Nick Dall

The Zika virus has been dominating headlines for the past month or so and we thought it wise to post a summary of what we know about the virus and what it means for our guests.
The basics
Zika virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This is the same mosquito that transmits dengue. (There are also recent reports that it may be transmitted through sexual intercourse and blood transfusions, although this appears to be far less common).
The most common symptoms of Zika virus infection are mild fever and skin rash, usually accompanied by conjunctivitis, muscle or joint pain, and general malaise that begins 2-7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito.
The vast majority of cases so far have been in Brazil. Because the Aedes mosquito occurs throughout the Americas (except continental Chile and Canada) it is expected to spread further.
2016-cha-autoch-human-cases-zika-virus-ew-4The good news
Only one out of four infected people develops symptoms of the disease. Among those who do, the disease is usually mild and can last 2-7 days.
The CDC, PAHO & WHO do not recommend any travel restrictions. Travelers are advised to take the suggested precautions to prevent mosquito bites, namely:

  • Cover exposed skin with long-sleeved shirts, trousers, and hats
  • Use repellents recommended by the health authorities (and apply them as indicated on the label)
  • Sleep under mosquito nets

What to do if you think you may have Zika

  • Talk to your doctor or nurse if you develop a fever with a rash, joint pain, or red eyes. Tell him or her about your travel.
  • Take medicine, such as acetaminophen or paracetamol, to relieve fever and pain. Do not take aspirin, products containing aspirin, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
  • Get lots of rest and drink plenty of liquids.
  • Prevent additional mosquito bites to avoid spreading the disease.
2006 Prof. Frank Hadley Collins, Dir., Cntr. for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, Univ. of Notre Dame This 2006 image depicted a female Aedes aegypti mosquito as she was obtaining a blood-meal from a human host through her fascicle, which had penetrated the host skin, was reddening in color, reflecting the blood?s coloration through this tubular structure. In this case, what would normally be an unsuspecting host was actually the CDC?s biomedical photographer?s own hand, which he?d offered to the hungry mosquito so that she?d alight, and be photographed while feeding. As it would fill with blood, the abdomen would become distended, thereby, stretching the exterior exoskeletal surface, causing it to become transparent, and allowed the collecting blood to become visible as an enlarging intra-abdominal red mass, as is the case in PHIL# 9175, and 9176. As the primary vector responsible for the transmission of the Flavivirus Dengue (DF), and Dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), the day-biting Aedes aegypti mosquito prefers to feed on its human hosts. Ae. aegypti also plays a major role as a vector for another  Flavivirus, "Yellow fever". Frequently found in its tropical environs, the white banded markings on the tarsal segments of its jointed legs, though distinguishing it as Ae. aegypti, are similar to some other mosquito species. Also note the lyre-shaped, silvery-white markings on its thoracic region as well, which is also a determining morphologic identifying characteristic.
The aedes aegypti mosquito carries the Zika virus. (Photo: James Hathaney)

The bad news
Very little is known about the Zika virus but it appears that it can lead to a severe birth defect known as microcephaly (an abnormally undersized head) if a pregnant mother contracts the virus. As a result, the CDC has issued the following advisory to pregnant women:
Women who are pregnant (in any trimester):

  • Consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.
  • If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your doctor first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.

 Women who are trying to become pregnant:

  • Before you or your male partner travel, talk to your doctor about your plans to become pregnant and the risk of Zika virus infection.
  • You and your male partner should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites

The official word
Much of what I have written is taken from articles posted by the PAHO and the CDC. For the full articles, click on the links below:
PAHO frequently asked questions
CDC press release
CDC Level 2 alert
We trust that this blog has helped to assuage your fears about the Zika virus. This is definitely a case where caution, rather than panic is advised.
Credit to Allen W Sheffield for the cover image of this post.