The Zika Virus: What’s the truth?

With the end of the semester, and the end of another full academic year coming to an end, I’m sure a number of you – myself included – are starting to think about vacation plans. The summer is nearly approaching and students are eager to get out of the classroom and trade the scenery for somewhere warmer, something with a view, and somewhere with lots of sand. That being said, vacation plans can get a little complicated with the current global concern of the Zika Virus. But what exactly is the Zika Virus? Will it affect your plans to go down to the Dominican with your friends? Who does it affect? What can you do to prepare yourself and make sure you’re well-protected on your travels? Whether you’re going down to Brazil itself and spending a lot of time there this summer, or you’re simply travelling anywhere south of the border for any length of time just to catch some sun, being an informed and well-prepared traveller is key. Hopefully, this post will help educate you and prepare you on how to travel smarter and safer.

What is Zika?

Zika is a virus that spread amongst people who are infected by the bite of a mosquito called Aedes. Because this virus is spread through a mosquito, it is called a vector-borne disease. Most people who are infected with the Zika virus experience symptoms characterized by a mild fever, skin rashes, joint pain, conjunctivitis, or headaches. These symptoms typically last anywhere from 2-7 days and can be treated through common prescribed and over-the-counter medication.

This virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda. The first discovery of this virus infecting humans was in 1952. Since that first discovery of the initial outbreak, various Zika outbreaks have been reported in various tropical areas in:

  • Africa
  • Southeast Asia
  • Pacific Islands

The current “hub” for the Zika virus – where the most recent outbreak was identified – is in Brazil. Local transmission has been reported around Brazil and has continued to spread to various areas in other countries and territories.

What are the signs and symptoms of Zika?

As mentioned above, the most common signs and symptoms of Zika virus are:

  • Mild fever
  • Skin rashes
  • Joint pain
  • Conjunctivitis (Red eyes)
  • Headaches

The most alarming symptom of Zika – also the reason for its high profile attention – is a condition called Microcephaly. Microcephaly is a birth defect characterized by an unusually smaller head size than what is expected when compared to babies born of that specific age, height, and weight. This occurs primarily due to underdevelopment of the infant’s brain while in the fetus. Microcephaly can lead to other health complications such as:

  • Seizures
  • Developmental Delay
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Problems with Movement and Balance
  • Feeding Problems
  • Hearing Loss
  • Vision Impairment

The most concerning cases of Zika have involved pregnant women who have been infected with the Zika Virus, delivering children who are born with microcephaly. This certain condition has been the reason for international concern concerning this virus.

What can I do to protect myself?

Unfortunately, as of this current moment, there are no known vaccines against the Zika virus. But there are some preventative measures that you can take if you’re traveling to the tropics this summer. These preventative measures are all centred around repelling the mosquito that is responsible for transmitting the virus.

  • Use insect repellent regularly
  • Wear light-coloured clothing that covers as much of the body as possible
  • Use window screens; close the doors; close the windows whenever possible
  • If necessary, use a mosquito net over beds
  • Empty/clean/cover containers that regularly store water
    • Water is a breeding site for mosquitos

If you decide to travel somewhere in the tropics this summer, hopefully this has helped you to be more knowledgeable and better prepared with your travels! Bearing these things in mind will help you to not only protect yourself and prevent transmission to yourself, but hopefully help you protect other travellers around you.

All sources used:

http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/microcephaly.html

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/