Zika is making the same type of scary headlines that Ebola made last year, and people, especially pregnant women, are understandably freaking out. But what is it--and what do you need to know to protect yourself? Here are some facts, from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What Zika is: Zika is a disease that's similar to yellow and dengue fever. It's caused by a virus that's spread from person to person via mosquitoes (mostly), and it's actually been around in Africa and Asia since the late 1940s. Pregnant women can give it to their unborn babies, and there's a possibility that it can be transmitted by having sex.
Who can get it: Anyone. Most of us don't have any immunity to the Zika virus, so if we get bitten by an infected mosquito, we'll probably come down with the disease.
What countries have outbreaks: As of January 2016, many countries in South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. So far there's been one case in the mainland U.S. But that case was last November, and the teenager who had it was traveling to El Salvador.
It's not a deadly infection for most of us. Unlike Ebola, most people who have Zika don't even know they have it. And only one in five people will actually get sick; even then, most cases are mild. The problem with Zika is that it can cause serious birth defects.
The symptoms are similar to the flu. The most common symptoms, according to the CDC are: fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms typically begin within a week of becoming infected. They go away after a week, too.
There's no vaccine that can prevent it--yet. And one may be ten years away, according to the BBC. So people who are traveling to affected areas have to take other precautions, like wearing long-sleeve shirts, long pants, using insect repellent, and sleeping in air-conditioned rooms or under mosquito nets.
Zika causes birth defects. Pregnant women have to be especially careful, as they can transmit the virus to their babies. Babies in Brazil and other countries have been born with a condition known as microcephaly, which means babies have smaller-than-normal heads, seizures, developmental delays, and other problems. There may be other defects as well (like vision problems).
Pregnant women are being told to avoid countries with Zika outbreaks. Since there's no treatment yet, the CDC is advising moms-to-be not to travel to countries in South or Central America during their pregnancy. Cruise ships and airlines are starting to refund tickets for women who have notes from their doctors.
If you develop Zika-like symptoms, go to the doctor. Even if you haven't traveled anywhere. While there's no definitive test for the virus yet, doctors can screen for dengue or yellow fevers, which are related, according to the New York Times.
If you get Zika, take it easy. Treat it as if you would the flu. Rest, drink plenty of liquids, and stay home. There's no specific medication you can take, although you can take acetaminophen, like Tylenol, to bring down the fever. The CDC is telling people not to take aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. If you take other medications, like statins, talk to your doctor.
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