Zika Virus Unwrapped: What You Need to Know as Outbreak Spreads

It's here: Zika has been reported in parts of the United States, as the World Health Organization predicted after outbreaks in the tropics.

Even with the virus moving into the States, there are ways to ward off Zika.

We've answered some questions about the nuts and bolts of the virus and suggest ways to avoid contact with one of these disease-carrying insects. 

What is the Zika virus? 

Zika is a viral infection transmitted by the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes, which are found in the tropics and carry yellow fever. It can also be transmitted sexually.

Common symptoms of the virus include fever, rash, conjunctivitis and joint pain. Other possible symptoms are headaches, muscle pain and weakness. Deaths associated with the disease are rare, and symptoms usually persist for a week.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 1 in 5 people infected become sick, leaving the rest asymptomatic. 

What are the Zika-affected areas, in case I need to postpone vacations?

Since the outbreak in Brazil, other countries in the Caribbean and South America have reported infections.

Below is a list of the places where the CDC says travelers should practice "enhanced precautions." That includes taking care not to be bitten by a mosquito, including wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants and using a repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535. 

Pregnant women should not travel to these areas, the CDC says.

In addition, the Zika virus can be spread through sex, so travelers to these regions should not have unprotected sex after a visit -- even if the travelers do not show symptoms.

  • Aruba
  • American Samoa
  • Barbados
  • Bolivia
  • Bonaire
  • Brazil
  • Cape Verde
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Curacao
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • French Guiana
  • Guadeloupe
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Jamaica
  • Marshall Islands
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • New Caledonia
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saint Martin
  • Sint Maarten
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Samoa
  • Suriname
  • Tonga
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Venezuela

What about the 2016 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio?

The CDC has issued a travel warning for Brazil. The agency says pregnant women should not travel to the Games, and visitors should take enhanced precautions. Click here for the agency's recommendations.

How does the virus spread?

Zika is transmitted from an infected mosquito to a human. The virus can also be spread from an infected pregnant mother to the baby during pregnancy or by sex.

The CDC encourages men to use condoms if they have visited an infected area.

If the virus isn't severe, why should I worry? 

Since the virus can be transferred from pregnant mother to infant, it can cause some major damage. Zika has been linked to brain damage in infants in Brazil. Doctors in the region found traces of the virus in the amniotic fluid of newborns who have microcephaly, a condition associated with small, undeveloped brains. Pregnant women should avoid traveling to affected areas. 

What are some recommendations to avoid contracting the virus? 

The best way to avoid the virus is to not get bitten, so postponing visits to the Caribbean and South America is key. 

If you happen to be in a tropical climate, here are some ways to protect yourself:

  • Wear long-sleeved clothing and stay indoors
  • Use insect repellents when outside
  • If you have a baby, cover the crib or stroller with mosquito netting

Is there a vaccine?

No, right now there is not a vaccine, but vaccine development is possible. 

A British biotech company, Oxitec, developed an approach to target the disease-carrying mosquitoes themselves. Scientists developed genetically modified mosquitoes to help prevent the recurrence of Zika. 

What should I do if I think I have Zika?

If you traveled to one of the affected areas and present symptoms, you should consult a physician. Your doctor may run some blood tests to determine if you have the virus.

Even without an available vaccine or medications, there are ways you can treat the symptoms. Resting and drinking fluids is crucial, especially if you experience headaches and fevers. You can also take over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or paracetamol to alleviate joint and muscle discomfort. Avoid ingesting aspirin to reduce the risk of hemorrhage. 

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