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With Zika virus becoming more of a concern in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that certain people be tested. Groups considered to be at risk include people who have traveled to areas where Zika is on the rise; people who may be showing Zika virus symptoms; and people who have been exposed to the Zika virus through sex.
Zika virus symptoms include the following:
- Aches and pains
- Joint pain
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Who Should Be Concerned About Zika Virus Symptoms?
Don’t panic if you’re experiencing Zika virus symptoms; the condition is fairly mild. In fact, you may not even realize you’ve been infected with Zika.
Even so, some people—especially pregnant women—have reason to fear Zika. The virus has been linked with an increased risk for birth defects among babies born to infected women. Pregnant women who contract Zika have in some cases given birth to babies with microcephaly, a defect that affects the size of an infant’s brain and head.
“Microcephaly can cause lifelong disabilities and be life-threatening,” says Cindy Moore, MD, PhD, Director of the Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the National Center on Birth Defects and Disabilities. “We are working to learn more about how Zika may affect pregnancy so we can protect mothers and babies from this condition, which can have a devastating impact on babies and their families.”
Recent research findings, as published in the Oct. 5, 2016 issue of New England Journal of Medicine, also suggest that Zika virus may increase the risk for Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause muscle weakness, pain, and even paralysis.
The Trail of Zika Virus Symptoms
First identified in Uganda in 1947, the Zika virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, the same type of mosquito that carries dengue fever, yellow fever, and chikungunya virus, according to the CDC. When a mosquito bites a Zika-infected person, it can then pass it to other people it bites.
Zika outbreaks did not occur outside of Africa until 2007, when it began spreading to the South Pacific region.
The first outbreak of locally transmitted Zika virus symptoms showed up in the United States in Florida in July 2016. On Nov. 28, 2016, state health officials in Texas reported a probable case of local transmission. the patient, a resident of Brownsville (on the Gulf Coast, near the Texas/Mexico border), is not pregnant. According to the New York Times, the case makes Texas “the second state, after Florida, in which the infection is thought to have been carried from person to person by mosquitos.”
How Zika Spreads
The Zika virus is spread not only by mosquitoes but via unprotected sex with an infected person—usually after someone “traveled to an area where Zika has broken out, got the virus, and gave the virus to a sex partner who did not travel,” according to the CDC.
“In the short term, as neither pharmacological treatment nor vaccines are available, prevention of Zika infection relies on protective measures against mosquito bites,” says Antonio Teixeira from the McGovern Medical School, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
If you live in, or are visiting, an area where mosquitoes are endemic, protect yourself from bites by using insect repellent. In order to be effective at protecting you from Zika virus symptoms, the repellent needs to contain one of these active ingredients:
If using sunscreen, apply mosquito repellent on top of it. If you have young children, check the label to make sure your chosen repellent is suitable for use on children. As a rule, repellent should not be used on babies age two months and younger. Clothing that covers arms and legs can provide added protection. Use a mosquito net if pushing your baby in a stroller.
Also, take steps to prevent mosquitoes from breeding—they lay their eggs in water, so be sure not to let standing water accumulate in or outside your home.