Current Events: What is the Mosquito-Bourne Zika Virus?
The Zika virus has been making headlines recently, as American public health officials are preparing for infection to spread in the United States via travelers returning from these infected areas.
Zika has recently been problematic in 22 countries in the Americas – including Brazil and El Salvador – where it has posed a particular danger to pregnant women (causing birth defects in newborns, such as microcephaly) while being linked to neurological conditions in adults. For most people however, symptoms of the virus are mild and include fever, headache, rashes and pink eye, lasting anywhere from several days to a week.
The incubation period – the time from exposure to symptoms – for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week. There’s no vaccine or specific treatment for the disease; instead the focus is on relieving symptoms and includes rest, rehydration, and medications for fever and pain.
There are two aggressive mosquitoes types that spread Zika – as well as plenty of other mosquito-transmitted illnesses: the Aedes aegypti (also known as the yellow fever mosquito) and the Aedes albopictus (also known as the Asian tiger mosquito).The virus is transmitted when an Aedes mosquito bites a person with an active infection and then spreads the virus by biting others. According to the Pan American Health Organization, it’s expected to spread to the United States and every country in the Western hemisphere where the Aedes mosquitoes are known to circulate (only Canada and Chile are spared here).
As previously mentioned, there’s no vaccine or medicine to prevent Zika, so simply avoiding mosquitoes in countries where the virus has been circulating is the best defense. Because of its link to potential birth defects, the CDC has issued a travel alert especially for pregnant American women and women of childbearing age who may become pregnant.