The ongoing Zika outbreak is a cause for global concern as it has been revealed that a bite from an infected mosquito is not the only way to contract the disease. Zika can be spread from mother to child and from person to person through blood transfusion or sexual contact. While these other ways of spreading the virus is uncommon as compared to mosquite bites, it nevertheless is a health concern for every person due to the ease of global travel these days.
Zika is an infectious disease caused by the Zika virus. This virus is mainly spread by mosquitoes, and specifically the Aedes species of mosquitoes. The signs and symptoms of Zika virus infection can be vague and appear like many other types of viral infections. Therefore it is important to consider the travel history of a person or where they live when these symptoms arise. People at high risk of Zika virus infection who are symptomatic then need to be tested.
Read more on Zika virus outbreak.
Where is it found?
Contrary to popular belief, this virus and species of mosquitoes are not only found in South America or specifically within Brazil. In fact Zika virus may be found in several tropical and sub-tropiocal countries in Africa, Asia and Oceania in addition to the Americas. Brazil reported the first outbreak of Zika virus infection in 2015 within the Americas. By 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that it is circulating in 38 countries.
Most of the people with Zika virus infection in the United States appear to have contracted it while in Latin America or South America. However, there have been cases reported in Miami which is understandable due to its climate and proximity to Latin America. Most of the southern states of the United States are also at risk and the infection has been reported in northern regions like New York and Kansas.
Who is at risk of Zika?
Any person who lives or travels to these endemic regions is at risk of Zika virus infection. Most of the time it is contracted when a mosquito carrying the virus bites a person. This allows the virus to enter the bloodstream. It is also known that the virus can be passed from mother to unborn child, with sexual contact and possibly through a blood transfusion as well.
Pregnant women are considered a high risk group not because they are more likely to become infected but due to the seriousness of complications in the unborn child. In fact people with a weakened immune system, like in HIV infection, are not at a greater risk of contracting the infection as any other people exposed to the mosquitoes. However, people with weakened immune systems are more likely to experience severe complications.
The main risks apart from traveling to endemic areas is not using preventative measures to keep mosquitoes at bay. This includes covering up as much of the body, using mosquito repellent sprays and sleeping under mosquito nets.
Do I have Zika?
If you have traveled to any of the hotspots where there is active Zika virus transmission or had sexual contact with person who has recently traveled to the region then you may have a Zika virus infection. This is irrespective of whether the person was bitten by a mosquito or have any symptoms indicative of the Zika vius infection. You may not recall a mosquito bite and the symptoms may only arise 3 to 12 days after contracting the virus.
How To Spot Zika
Most people who contract the Zika virus infection do not exhibit any signs and symptoms. Complications from Zika virus infection are uncommon in adults. Therefore a person may never know that they had Zika virus infection. Even when symptoms appear, it is often mistaken for other common viral infections like the flu. Pregnant women are at a higher risk because Zika virus infection can cause serious complications in the unborn child and even fetal death.
Zika virus infection can cause a condition known as microcephaly in babies, where the head is abnormally small. Other malformations may also arise if the pregnant mother is infected. For all other age groups, Zika virus infection may trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome although this is an uncommon complication. Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare condition where the immune system attacks the nerves. Most people will recover from this condition although some serious cases can lead to paralysis of certain muscles. Overall this is rare.
Fever is a common symptom of most viral infections. In Zika virus infection the fever is usually mild. In children this means an oral temperature reading above 99.5ºF (37.5ºC). With adults, a temperature above 100ºF (37.8ºC) is indicative of a fever.
Muscle pain (myalgia) and joint pain (arthralgia) are commonly reported when Zika virus infection symptoms do arise. There is usually no swelling or weakness of specific muscle groups. The aches may be dull and not localized to a specific region at times. However, in other cases it may be severe and described as an intense burning.
Another common symptom of Zika virus infection is a a skin rash. The rash is typically flat bumps on the skin that are either small or very small. It appears as tiny red spots. The rash starts early and usually on the face, gradually spreading over the entire body. However, there are cases where this rash is seen on the hands and arms first.
* Pictures of the Zika skin rash is available at the source listed under references.
Conjunctivitis is another symptom of Zika virus infection. The ‘whites’ of the eyes are red and it may be mild or severely bloodshot as is seen with viral conjunctivitis (pink eye). Soreness of the eyes, watery eyes and light sensitivity may also be present. In addition, the conjunctivitis may accompanied by tiny red spots inside the mouth.
A headache is another symptom of Zika virus infection. Like most symptoms when present, the headache is usually mild. However, some people infected with the Zika virus may experience a severe headache. There are reports of cases where the headache is the first symptom, but usually accompanied by malaise.
Other Signs and Symptoms
The following signs and symptoms may also be present.
- Malaise: A feeling of being unwell.
- Lethargy: Feeling a lack of energy.
- Lymphadenopathy: Enlarged lymph nodes.