Until a few weeks ago, the Zika virus was a rarely discussed illness primarily of concern to people in other countries, especially Brazil and parts of Africa. But in the first week of February 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported at least one case of Zika had been identified in Texas and the World Health Organization that the Zika virus was “spreading explosively,” creating a an international public health emergency.
The chief concern is that the mosquito-born disease that is similar to tropical illnesses like dengue fever and West Nile Virus, will cause a rise in birth defects. The virus is generally not a great danger to healthy adults. The primary risk is to unborn children.
If a pregnant woman contracts the virus, her child has a very high risk of being born with microcephally–an unusually small head and limited brain development.
The only cases in the United States have been identified in people who had recently traveled. As women descended from African populations all over the world, and often close to our extended families, our primary risk comes from travel or contact with someone who has traveled to a country with high rates of the virus. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe:
- What are the countries with active rates of Zika virus transmission that should be of concern to travelers, especially extended black families?
– Cape Verde
– Saint Martin
– U. S. Virgin Islands
The CDC’s extended list now includes 30 countries, but some health experts believe the virus will eventually be transmitted virtually everywhere.
- How is the virus transmitted?
The primary and most common form a transmission is by mosquito bite, since the virus lives in blood and other bodily fluids, but the CDC has documented cases of sexual transmission, so if you suspect your partner may have been exposed, practice safe sex—use a condom.
- What are the symptoms?
The symptoms include fever, a red rash, joint pain and red eyes, but only one in five people see symptoms after infection. Again, the greatest risk is when a pregnant woman contracts the virus.
The symptoms appear two to 12 days after a bite and fade away in within a week. The virus is usually mild, not life threatening and people seldom need to be hospitalized.
There is a blood test that can only be performed by an advanced laboratory, so if you think you have been exposed, you should tell your physician. There is no cure for the virus.
- If I am bitten and pregnant, what should I do?
The CDC has created interim guidelines for women who thin they may become pregnant or are pregnant. The most important advice is to avoid traveling to a country (see list above) with active Zika transmission.
If you cannot avoid travel, or you think you have been exposed, or have symptoms, tell your doctor and get a blood test. Zika cannot be cured, but your physician can begin to monitor your pregnancy more carefully.