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Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

As the Zika virus continues to spread, hundreds of cases have already been reported in the U.S. alone. According to WHO, an estimate of 3-4 million people in America will be infected with the virus by 2018. Since the beginning, the Zika virus has now spread to nearly 34 countries all over the world.

What is Zika?

Zika is a flavivirus, which is related to the same family as the West Nile, Yellow fever, dengue, and chikungunya. Unlike most viruses, there is currently no vaccine to prevent the virus or treat the infection. It has been said that the virus has a connection with microcephaly, which is a neurological disorder that leads to babies born with abnormally tiny heads.

The first case was reported in early February in the United States as the virus was not spread through a mosquito bite but through sexual intercourse. The individual affected had sex with a partner was recently returned from a trip to Venezuela and was unaware of being infected with the virus. The virus is said to stay in the blood for at least a week. However, it is still unknown how long the virus lasts in the semen. Researchers are currently investigating that now.

Who is At Most Risk?

Pregnant women who have traveled to or live in regions that are infected with Zika are most vulnerable to the infection. Zika can also be transmitted through mosquito bites and sex. People living in warmer climates with a presence of A. aegypti mosquitos increase the risk of transmission.

Once the risk is enough, the U.S. will encourage women to hold off on pregnancy and consider using birth control. Access to birth control is a particular concern for countries, including Puerto Rico as more than half of all pregnancies are unplanned. This means women in those areas must refrain from unintended pregnancy by using an effective method.

Is there a Cure?

Currently, there are no approved treatments or vaccines against the virus. This was because scientists had previously assumed that the virus was benign and that it wasn’t worth investigating the illness for treatment. As of late, Zika has yet to be widely examined.

However, early studies have reported that the virus could affect the brain cells in between the connection of Zika and microcephaly – a relatively new severe form of congenital neurological disability. At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vaccine development is undergoing research as scientists have said to be tweaking a vaccine that was in the early stages for the West Nile virus.

As Zika is said to be an infection that goes away within a few days, it may be tougher to cure with a drug rather than a vaccine for prevention.

What is the Government Doing to Stop the Zika Virus?

Depending on which country you live in, the CDC has activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to a level 1 response for Zika – which has only happened during the H1N1 flu outbreak, Ebola Crisis, and Hurricane Katrina. Scientists in Atlanta have been monitoring cases while working on better diagnostics and studies, particularly in pregnant women.

While progress has inevitably been made, the agency has sent better tools to local laboratories and has concluded on the accurate results of the link between Zika and microcephaly.

How You Can Protect Yourself Against the Virus?

For starters, people must cover up and use proper insect repellent. Prevention is the best way to avoid the Zika virus. If you’re in an area with mosquitoes, be sure to wear long clothing and repellent, no matter how warm the weather is.

Make sure that your windows have screens and use the air conditioner if you’re at home during the day. It is said that mosquitoes are usually day bites and all they need to lay more eggs is a tiny amount of water. Be sure to get rid of any water bowls you may find around your home.

What Do We Still Not Know About the Zika Virus?

Doctors are still left in the dark as to why some pregnant women were infected with Zika can give birth to babies with microcephaly while others do not. We still don’t know how the risk of infection is the greatest during pregnancy and the chances of babies that are born with the disease will survive. While we do know that Zika causes microcephaly, we are left uncertain as to how Zika can halt brain development.

Tell us what you think of this virus and how or if the Zika virus has affected you or your loved ones.