With the 2016 Summer Olympic Games just a few weeks away, the anxiety about the spread and transmission of the Zika virus remains a global concern. Scientists are calling for the Olympic Committee to move the games out of Rio, seemingly the “epicenter’ for the Aedes mosquito that transmits the infection. Just this week, golfer Rory McIlroy joined the growing list of sports figures dropping out of the games stating, “After speaking with those closest to me, I’ve come to realize that my health and my family’s health comes before anything else.” The conversation and debate about the games and the virus will continue on a global scale, as athletes and spectators descend on Brazil for the games, which are set to begin on August 5.
What is Zika?
Zika is a virus that is spread primarily through the Aedes mosquito, the same breed that carries chikungunya and dengue. The virus can also be spread through blood and bodily fluids during sexual intercourse. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) classify the risk of infection of Zika in the United States as extremely rare. There are no cases of “locally acquired” Zika virus in the continental US. As of June 15, 2016, however, there were 755 travel-associated cases reported.
What are the symptoms of Zika?
About 80% of people who are infected with the virus, don’t even know it! After the initial bite from the mosquito, there is a 2-7 day incubation period before the symptoms begin. Symptoms are generally mild and can include fever, headache, joint pain, skin rash and conjunctivitis (pink eye). It is believed that the virus remains in the body for a long period of time, even after the symptoms have resolved. If you have traveled to a country with travel advisories related to Zika, and you have 2 or more symptoms or symptoms worsen, you should see your doctor for a blood test to confirm if you have the virus: this way you can take preventative measures to stop the transmission to others.
If the symptoms are mild, what is the concern?
Unborn babies are at the greatest risk of complications from the Zika virus. Women who are pregnant are at risk of transmitting the virus to their unborn babies, causing serious birth defects and brain damage (congenital microcephaly). Pregnant women or those who intend to get pregnant and who live in areas where there is an outbreak, who have traveled to an affected area or who have partners who have traveled to affected areas should take extra precautions to avoid being infected. In rare instances, adults have contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder that can cause muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.
Are there treatments or a vaccination for Zika?
Treatment includes rest, over-the-counter pain relievers and plenty of fluids. There are no anti-viral medications or vaccines at this time. The medical community is focusing on prevention and mosquito abatement in those countries with major outbreaks.
How can I prevent the Zika virus?
The best way to avoid the Zika virus is to reduce your exposure to mosquitos by using insect repellant containing DEET (even during pregnancy) and wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants. Pregnant women should NOT travel to areas with a Zika virus advisory. Those who are planning on traveling to an area with local transmission should adopt safe sex practices for at least 8 weeks following their return home, even without noticeable symptoms. Men who present with Zika virus symptoms should practice safe sex or abstinence for at least SIX MONTHS following the onset of symptoms so as to not transmit the virus to a partner, especially if they are trying to conceive.
For the most current information on the Zika virus and travel alerts, we urge you to visit www.cdc.org
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Dr. Kalpesh Patel, internal medicine doctor in Plainfield, is dedicated to providing quality health care to Plainfield, Naperville, and surrounding area residents. At Advanced Integrative Medicine, Dr. Patel offers cancer screenings in Plainfield, physical exams in Plainfield, nutritional supplements in Plainfield, healthy lifestyle management in Plainfield, and specialist referrals.