What You Need To Know About The Zika Virus

pregnant woman
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I have to be honest with you -- I've completely avoided clicking on any article about the Zika virus because I'm afraid of what I might find. It seems like every other day there is some kind of horrible news story being spread around and sometimes, I just feel overwhelmed with all the scary stuff floating around out there. 

But the truth is, we are parents and as parents, it's our job to know how to best protect our children and their health.

And part of protecting them is keeping up with the latest health news. So today, I buckled down and did my research on the real threat of the Zika virus for babies. Here's what we all need to know:

What is the Zika Virus?

According to the CDC, the Zika virus is a virus that is spread primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito in humans. A bite from the mosquito causes mild symptoms, such as rash, red eyes, fever and joint pain in adults and the illness usually only lasts a few days and is rarely serious. The CDC reports that only 1 in 5 people who get bit by an affected mosquito will even get sick and sometimes, the illness is so mild they might not even realize they are sick. 

So bottom line, for most people, the Zika virus is not that big of a deal. The real issue, it appears, is that pregnant women who get Zika may be at risk for complications to her baby. Although the link hasn't been proven, there appears to be some kind of association between the Zika virus and an increase in a condition called microcephaly in babies born to moms who get the virus.

The CDC says that they don't know for sure if Zika causes microcephaly, but are cautioning women against it, just in case. Microcephaly is a condition that causes abnormally small heads. In most cases, the brain also develops abnormally and as a result, the child will have life-long complications and problems.

 

Where is The Zika Virus?

The Zika virus is most prevalent in Brazil, followed by Columbia, which estimates that it will have over 600 babies born with microcephaly this year alone. The country reports that it has 2,000 women showing symptoms of the virus right now. 

Tropical areas such as Barbados, Brazil, Mexico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Costa Rica are all affected by the virus. 

The CDC has a Zika virus tracker that is updated constantly with the latest cases of the virus. As of February 3, 2016, there have been 35 travel-acquired cases of Zika in the U.S., meaning that 35 people have gotten the virus from traveling to affected countries outside of the United States. There haven't been any reported cases of someone getting the virus from a mosquito in the U.S. yet. 

How Is The Zika Virus Spread?

Because the virus is spread by mosquito bites, the countries that have the highest rates also have similar things in common: high, moist heat, a lot of standing water for the mosquitoes larvae to reproduce, and poor sanitation.

All of those things lead to more mosquitoes and thus, more chance of the virus being spread. 

Recently, however, the CDC learned that the virus is also spread through sexual contact

​Should You Be Concerned About the Zika Virus For Your Baby? 

Bottom line, if your baby has already been born, there isn't a need to panic about the Zika virus at the moment. The only reason you should be concerned is if you are 1. Currently pregnant and planning to travel to a country where Zika is prevalent or 2. Planning to get pregnant and are planning to travel to a country with high rates of Zika or if your partner will be traveling to an affected country, since the disease is spread through sexual contact was well. 

If you fall under any of those categories, speak to your care provider about ways to prevent transmission and you may want to reconsider those travel plans also. There aren't any current medications or vaccines for the Zika virus, but there are recommendations for prevention, pregnancy-safe mosquito repellants, and testing and monitoring for women who have travelled to an affected area. 

References:

Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention. Zika Virus. Accessed February 6, 2016: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html. 

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