Zika Virus – Things you need to know.

Zika virus is a disease that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.  While this type of mosquito can bite during evening hours, it is an aggressive daytime biter and prefers to live near and to bite people.  Kirk Robbins with Uintah Mosquito Abatement confirmed that the Aedes mosquito lives in warm, somewhat tropical environments and has never been identified in our region.  Outbreaks of Zika have been reported in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands and local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission has been reported in the continental United States. CDC has guidance for people living in or traveling to South Florida. Also, CDC has guidance for people living in or traveling to Brownsville, Texas. Zika is a risk in multiple countries and in three US territories and it is likely that the disease will continue to spread. 

Zika virus is spread when a mosquito bites an infected person and then in turn bites other people as they feed throughout the remainder of their life cycle.  The most common symptoms of the disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).  Additional symptoms may include muscle pain and headache.  The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. Roughly 80% people infected with Zika virus don’t even know that they have the disease as people usually don’t become sick enough to merit medical attention and rarely die from the disease.   If an individual has traveled to a region where Zika is present and shows symptoms of the disease, it is recommended that they seek medical assistance to determine if laboratory blood tests are necessary.

Zika virus can be passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy; however, there are no reports of infants contracting Zika through breastfeeding.  There have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies whose mothers were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. Knowledge of a link between the two is evolving, but until more is known, the Centers for Disease control (CDC) recommends special precautions. Pregnant women should consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus is active. If you must travel to an effected area, speak with a healthcare provider to discuss steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip. Women trying to become pregnant should also speak with a healthcare provider about travel plans and the risks.  Both partners should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip. While Zika virus can be found in a person’s bloodstream for approximately one week after the initial infection, a determination has not been made as to how long the virus can persist in semen. A man with Zika virus can pass the disease to his sex partners.  If a who man travels to an area with Zika has a pregnant partner, the couple should practice abstinence or use condoms during the partner’s pregnancy.

Dr. Karl Breitenbach, Medical Advisor for TriCounty Health Department, has said, “For definitive answers we will have to wait and let the scientific process work. Virologists, including some at Utah State University, are trying to discover the pathogenic effects of the virus.  It is premature for anyone to proclaim exactly what the risks of infection with the virus will be.”

At this time, there is no vaccine to prevent, or specific medication to treat, Zika virus. Based on information regarding similar infections, once a person has been infected, they are likely protected from future infections.  In order to treat the symptoms, get plenty of rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration, take medication such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain. Do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

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