The Zika virus, also known as ZIKV is an infection that is carried by mosquitoes and causes an illness that is usually very mild; in some cases, it can even be asymptomatic. The name comes from the place where this virus was first isolated in the year 1947: The Zika Tropical Forest in Uganda.
Since then, this virus has been known to appear in countries close to the Equator, thus spreading in the shape of a belt around the Globe. Starting from Africa, it reached Asia at first, then it reached over the Pacific Ocean into to American continent.
One of the reasons that the Zika virus has been of so much concern lately is not due to the infection itself, but rather due to the late consequences on patients, more specifically, pregnant women experience.
Travel destination to avoid
The main locations you should avoid if you are concerned about coming in contact with the Zika virus include but are not limited to: Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, all of Central Africa, Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cuba, Fiji, etc.
All these countries and areas are situated around the Equator and all have reported cases of Zika infections within their territory.
Zika virus infection during pregnancy causes congenital abnormalities that affects the fetus. One of the most common defects that fetuses develop when the mother is infected with the Zika virus is microcephaly.
Among other severe birth defects, this one affects the newborn’s brain and can be related to other problems such as stillbirth or miscarriage. Another sickness linked to this virus is the Guillain-Barré syndrome, which affects the nervous system.
How to prevent Zika
Unfortunately, in terms of a vaccine, there is none existent at the moment to stop the Zika infection. The best method to prevent this sickness from spreading is to stop the mosquitos from reaching you. Protect yourself from mosquito bites by wearing shirts with long sleeves and long pants. Besides covering up any exposed skin, you could try to acquire pre-treated gear or clothes or to treat what you are wearing yourself.
Use sprays that contain insect repellent substances and follow the instructions on the labels. If used properly, these products are proven to be safe for pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding.
Take care when using such sprays around small children and infants, since some of these items contain chemicals that are not suited for children under the age of 3 and none are suited to be used on babies under 2 months old.
Use door and window screens in your home in order to keep the mosquitos out and install an air conditioning unit. When going outside, you can cover baby carriers and strollers with mosquito netting. Use the same type of protection for yourself if you plan on sleeping outside.
Avoid having sexual contact or use a condom in order not to get infected with the Zika virus or to stop spreading it if you or your partner recently traveled to an area with potential risk. The time needed for you to use these preventive methods depends on a few factors such as whether you or your partner show any symptoms and whether one of you is, or trying to get pregnant.
After returning home
Even if you’re not feeling any discomfort at all after you have returned home from a country which has the risk of Zika, you should still take steps towards preventing mosquitoes from biting your skin for at least 3 weeks. This way, if you are infected, at least you will prevent the virus from spreading.
It is extremely important that you talk to your doctor in the following cases: you have symptoms after returning from a location with a known Zika risk; you are pregnant and just have returned from such an area, even if you don’t feel bad; you are thinking about becoming pregnant after a trip to a country with a known Zika risk.
What to do if you have Zika
As mentioned before, there is no specific treatment or vaccine for the Zika virus. Treat the symptoms according to the following methods:
- Sleep more; give your body the chance to rest.
- In order to prevent dehydration drink more water.
- Take acetaminophen against fever and joint pain.
- In the case that you are already following treatment for another condition, talk to your doctor prior to taking new medication.
Zika and animals. What we know.
- The way Zika virus spreads among people is primarily through infected mosquitoes’ bites.
- Apart from humans, only apes and monkeys can be infected with Zika. Afterward, these animals may experience mild sickness and fever.
- Pets such as dogs, cats, birds have not been reported as becoming infected with the Zika virus.
- As far as current studies suggest, mosquitoes are the only animals that contribute to the spread of the virus.
- There is no proof that the virus can spread to people from animals through interactions like touching, licking, coughing or sneezing.
In some parts of Africa and South America, mosquitoes could become vectors (get infected) by feeding on the blood of apes or monkeys infected with Zika. Those mosquitoes could then pass the virus to a human, although there is a small chance of that happening.
Currently, more research is required in order for us to better understand how apes and monkeys may spread Zika among humans. Although we do not have a vaccine yet, researchers are working on one and hopefully, it will not be long until they get a breakthrough.
It is not hard to stay away from this infection as a tourist, even if you visit some of the countries mentioned at the beginning of this article. All you have to do is be cautious and protect yourself mainly from mosquitoes during your trip and for a few weeks after you return.