From the Hilbert College Wellness Center – How to Avoid the Zika Virus

by Kirsten Falcone, RN

How to Avoid the Zika Virus

Another “global epidemic” is in the news lately, and it should be taken seriously. Here is some information to increase awareness, decrease panic, and help you and your friends and family avoid it altogether.

The Zika virus is significant mostly because of its effects on the unborn and also because of the mode it is spread. Many health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe it is on our doorstep because of the proximity of cases in Mexico, and now a few cases reported in the U.S. This week the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency, mostly because of the serious impact it likely has on unborn babies. The virus is believed to be transmitted mainly by mosquitoes, though there have been reports of it spreading through sexual contact and blood transfusion.

What is the Zika virus, and why should I be aware of it?

The Zika virus is vector-transmitted currently by a tropical mosquito called the Aedis aegypti (but can also be transmitted by related mosquitoes that live in the U.S.), and it causes typical flu-like symptoms in healthy individuals. However, worldwide it is believed that more than 4,000 infants born with microcephaly (an underdeveloped brain and small head) can be linked to the virus. Therefore, pregnant women need to be aware of the threat, and take precautions right away.

Precautions for pregnant women (and those who may be pregnant) include the following:

  1. Don’t travel abroad to countries with the outbreak, including much of South America, Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and areas of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
    (Link to the CDC’s list: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html.)
  2. Once the weather warms up here in Western New York, wear long sleeves outdoors or use a mosquito repellant during the day. That is the most likely time to be bitten by a Zika-carrying mosquito.
  3. Stay inside, and use screens or air conditioning.
  4. If you develop flu symptoms (fever, rash, unusual joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain and headache) after spending time in a high-risk area, get a blood test from your doctor. It might be just the flu, and this will put your mind at rest.

Precautions for the rest of us:

  1. If you travel to an affected country (see list above), protect yourself from mosquito bites by wearing long sleeves and using repellant, especially during daytime hours.
  2. If you plan on spending time outdoors, treat gear and clothing with permethrin.
  3. Only 20 percent of people infected will ever develop symptoms. Prevent a mosquito from biting you after you return from an affected area. That will keep the virus from spreading in your network.
  4. If you develop flu symptoms after traveling to affected areas, have a blood test to rule out the cause, and continue to prevent mosquitoes from biting you.
  5. Even if you don’t develop symptoms, you may want to be tested, since only 20 percent of people develop symptoms. This will prevent you from infecting others unknowingly.
  6. Stay away from pregnant women until you can confirm that you are not infected. (This may or may not help, depending upon how far a mosquito can fly, but it will make the pregnant woman feel more secure!)
  7. There is no vaccine or medicine specifically for Zika, but you can treat the symptoms. The good news is symptoms are usually mild, and death is rare.

Knowledge is power. Stay safe. Stay well.

 

For more information on the Zika virus, visit these sites:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html

Medline Plus:
https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/zikavirus.html

WebMD:
http://www.webmd.com/news/20160202/mosquitoes-speading-zika-virus

The White House:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/01/27/zika-virus-what-you-need-know

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