Friday, January 29, 2016

What Should You Do About the Zika Virus?

There's a new "dread disease" to worry about; it's called the zika virus. From its start in Brazil, the zika virus has spread quickly throughout areas of Central and South America. It is transmitted by a strain of mosquitos not currently endemic in the United States. At the moment there is no vaccine to prevent zika infection and no medicine to treat it.

In adults, a zika viral infection causes only mild symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. The symptoms typically last for only 4-5 days. If that was all there was to a zika viral infection there wouldn't be much to worry about. But that's NOT all; health officials think that the zika virus is responsible for a substantial uptick in cases of microcephaly (a small head and brain) among infants born to zika-infected mothers. And infant microcephaly is a permanent condition that can lead to serious developmental consequences.

So how worried should you be? It depends. If you don't ever travel to Central or South America where the zika-transmitting mosquito is found, you can probably forget about the zika virus; you won't become infected. Even if you do travel to an infected area, it's probably no big deal as long as you don't plan on becoming pregnant.

On the other hand, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) recommends that pregnant women postpone any travel to zika-infected areas. This may seem extreme, but there are no medications or vaccines to prevent zika infection, and the consequences to the fetus can be severe.

For more on this subject, visit the zika virus page of the CDC's website.

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