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5 things you should know about the Zika virus

There is growing concern over the spread of the Zika virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the outbreak and its complications in newborns as a public health emergency. Here are five things you should know about the virus:

1. The Zika virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitos, though there have also been rare documented cases of sexual transmission. 

According to the WHO, mosquitos become infected with the Zika virus when they bite an infected person. They then spread the virus by biting other uninfected people.

Only female Aedes mosquitos bite, and they are intermittent feeders-- preferring to bite more than one person.

Aedes mosquitos are also common carriers of chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever.

2. Zika virus typically occurs in tropical areas with large mosquito populations.

There are two types of Aedes mosquitos that can transmit the Zika virus: 

  • Aedes aegypti: Zika typically spreads through this mosquito, which lives in tropical and subtropical regions and cannot survive in cooler temperatures. 
  • Aedes albopictus: This mosquito can hibernate and live in cooler temperatures.

According to the WHO, Aedes mosquitos are weak flyers, but they may accidently be transported by humans—piggybacking in cars or plants.

Currently, there about 28 countries with active Zika virus transmissions.

3. About 1 in 5 people actually experience symptoms of the Zika virus.

“A large number of patients who contract Zika virus will not have any symptoms,” says Jeffrey Haller, M.D., a primary care physician with Piedmont Atlanta.   “If they do, they will typically present with fevers, rash, joint paint, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).  They may also have muscle aches and headaches.”

Symptoms are usually mild and last for about two to seven days.

4. The Zika virus infection may be linked to a serious birth defect called microcephaly.

Microcephaly is a condition where a baby is born with an unusually small head. Babies who have microcephaly can suffer from a range of problems, including seizures, developmental delays and vision problems.

And while health officials are still trying to connect the link between Zika and microcephaly, they are warning pregnant women to protect themselves against mosquitos.

“Individuals who cannot be become pregnant should not be very concerned as symptoms are quite mild and person to person transmission seems to be extremely rare,” says Jesse Couk, M.D., an infectious disease specialist with the Atlanta ID Group.  “However, pregnant women and women who may become pregnant may have cause for concern. For these women I suggest avoiding travel to Zika virus endemic regions and avoid mosquitoes, particularly as their numbers increase in the spring and summer months.”

5. There is no vaccine.

Currently there is no medication or vaccine to prevent the Zika virus. The best form of protection is to prevent mosquito bites.  Dr. Couk recommends the following:

“Avoid being outdoors at dawn and dusk,” says Dr. Couk. “Wear long sleeve clothing and apply 30 to 50 percent DEET mosquito repellent to exposed skin before heading outdoors.”

Dr. Haller also recommends taking preventative measures to minimize the mosquito population.

“The main thing we can do is to eliminate free standing water in our environment, which mosquitos need to reproduce,” says Dr. Haller.  

Dr. Haller practices at Piedmont Physicians Midtown Family Practice, located at 1080 Peachtree Street Northeast, Suite 12, Atlanta, GA 30309. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Haller or one of our other primary care providers. Save time, book online.

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