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The Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

Zika Virus Facts

Zika virus is spread primarily by bites from infected mosquitoes.

Zika was first documented in 1947 and is named after the Ugandan Zika Forest. Outbreaks of the condition have been reported in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and most recently South and Central America. But since the symptoms of Zika go unnoticed or are similar to those of other diseases, it’s hard to know exactly how many areas have been affected.

What Are the Symptoms?

Zika virus may not be easy to identify, since the infected person may not experience any symptoms at all. If you do contract Zika, the symptoms usually are not severe enough to require hospitalization. Overall, symptoms only last up to a week. The infection is believed to stay in the blood for a week, but possibly longer.

Infections mainly result in fever, rash, headache, joint pain and possibly conjunctivitis. The time between infection and the onset of symptoms, a phase known as the incubation period, is usually a few days to a week, but if symptoms appear within two weeks after possible exposure, it could be Zika.

Major Risks and Side Effects

One of the most devastating aspects of Zika virus is its effect on an unborn fetus. If a mother becomes infected, the virus is passed to the fetus, and risk of developmental complications rises. Conditions such as microcephaly, which is when babies are born with smaller, underdeveloped brains, have been reported in pregnant women who were infected with Zika.

What Treatment Is Available?

Research is ongoing, but there is currently no effective treatment for the Zika virus, nor are there any medications available to limit its spread. If you contract the virus, you are advised to drink plenty of fluids, rest and take over-the-counter pain medications for discomfort. It is also extremely important to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes so the disease will not continue to spread.

How Can You Avoid Contracting Zika?

Do not travel to countries with a reported outbreak. The mosquitoes that pass the infection normally bite during the daytime. If you are in an area marked as high risk, do your best to keep on bug repellant at all times, stay indoors and wear long sleeves. Be aware that since the virus enters the blood, unprotected sexual intercourse can transmit the disease as well. If you engage in intercourse with a partner who has traveled to an infected country, use protection or abstain from sexual relations. Though research is still being conducted, it is known that Zika can stay in semen longer than in blood.

If you are concerned about your exposure to Zika virus, contact Rocky Mountain Women’s Health Center and get tested.

Stephen Lash
Dr. Stephen Lash, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist with more than 22 years of experience. Dr. Lash's areas of special interest include: Regular and high risk obstetrics, well women care, office surgical procedures, and general and operative gynecology.

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