Zika is the latest health problem to affect tropical travelers. There are now confirmed cases of Zika in the U.S. We investigate the truth about Zika is and offer some healthy living tips for avoiding the serious side effects that this mosquito-borne virus can cause.
What is Zika?
Zika is a virus spread mainly through the bite of an infected mosquito. Named after the Zika Forest of Uganda where it was first found, until recently, the virus was contained in a narrow Equatorial belt of Africa and Asia. An epidemic of Zika outbreaks has now been confirmed in multiple countries including the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa, Singapore and the Pacific Islands.
Most people who contract Zika have mild symptoms including a fever; a fine, red rash on parts of the body; painful joints; and conjunctivitis or itchy red eyes. The symptoms can linger for several weeks but the only treatment is to take acetaminophen to control the fever (not aspirin or NSAIDS) and drink plenty of fluids.
The only way to diagnose Zika from other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever or chikungunya is through a blood test. For some people, particularly children, Zika symptoms are so mild they do not even know they have the virus but their brains may be affected long-term. There is currently no vaccine or cure for Zika, but once you have had it you are protected against future infection.
Related: Natural Ways to Avoid Bug Bites
Health Concerns Surrounding Zika
In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency concerning Zika. This was because the virus was found to be associated with causing brain damage in unborn babies. If a woman is infected with Zika during pregnancy she can transmit it to the baby, causing birth defects such as microcephaly.
Healthy habits recommend that men traveling to areas where Zika virus is found should use a condom to avoid passing on the Zika virus to a pregnant partner. As doctors do not know how long the virus may remain active in semen, men who may have been infected with Zika should take steps to protect their sexual partner for at least six months. Women should use barrier protection for at least eight weeks after possible Zika exposure.
Healthy Living Tips for Avoiding Zika
Until more is known about the effects of Zika and how long the virus may survive in a victim, the CDC has issued several serious healthy living tips and warnings. Pregnant women should avoid traveling to areas where there are known outbreaks of Zika. Those who have inadvertently been in contact with Zika should have a blood test for Zika, even if they have no symptoms.
All tropical travelers should wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, preferably made from fabric treated with permethrin, to deter mosquito bites. Regularly apply insect repellant containing deet and read blogs and books that suggest more healthy habits for avoiding Zika.