What is the Zika virus? Are you in danger of catching it? Although the virus is most commonly transmitted through mosquito bites, it can also rarely be transferred from an infected mother to her child. There are also reports that it might possibly be transmissible from human to human by a blood transfusion or sexual contact, but this is still being determined.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. The Zika Virus Is Transmitted Through Mosquito Bites And Sexual Contact
The Zika virus is spread primarily through bites from infected mosquitos, according to the CDC. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or birth. If you’ve been infected with the virus and are bitten by a mosquito, that mosquito will in turn carry the virus and affect others. That’s why if you think you’re infected, you should stay indoors during the first week of infection.
It can also be transmitted sexually. The CDC has confirmed that a case of Zika being transmitted through sex was recorded in Dallas. There was also a report of the virus being spread through sexual contact in 2009. A biologist from Colorado State University, Brian Foy, was bitten by mosquitoes numerous times in Senegal and fell ill with Zika after returning to the U.S. Before he got sick, he had sex with his wife in the U.S. and she later contracted Zika too. She had never been to Senegal, Science Magazine reported.
According to the CDC, there has been one report of the virus possibly being spread through a blood transfusion.
2. Active Zika Transmissions Haven’t Been Reported in the U.S., But the Mosquito That Transmits the Disease Lives Here
So far, no active reports of mosquito transmissions have occurred in the United States. This means that no one has gotten Zika from being bitten by a mosquito in the U.S. However, there have been multiple cases reported from people who were bitten outside of the U.S. and then developed the disease back in the states. All of them had traveled abroad to Brazil and other affected areas, CNN reported. In addition, a baby with microcephaly was born in Hawaii, but the mother had spent part of her pregnancy in Brazil.
The mosquito that transmits Zika is the Aedes mosquito species, primarily Aedes aegypti which lives in more tropical regions. The Aeges mosquito is aggressive and bites more during the day. It also prefers people and will live indoors or outdoors. Unfortunately, that mosquito lives in the United States too.
There has also recently been some concern that the Zika virus may have spread to the common mosquito, called Culex, Sky News reported. There are 20 times more Culex mosquitoes than Aedes aegypti.
3. Symptoms of the Zika Virus Are Mild, But Pregnant Women Can Get Birth Defects And Some Experts Suspect Adults Can Develop Neurological Problems
Most symptoms from the Zika virus are typically mild, the CDC reported. Only 1 in 5 people who are infected will even actually get sick. If they do, they may have:
- Joint Pain
- Red Eyes (conjunctivitis)
- Muscle pain
In general, symptoms begin 2 to 7 days after being bitten and will only last for about a week at the most. People rarely need hospitalization from Zika.
So far, the greatest known risk from Zika is to pregnant women. Pregnant women are at risk of their babies’ developing birth defects such as microcephaly from the disease. Microcephaly is a condition where the baby’s head is born smaller than it should be, compared to babies of the same sex and age.
There are also possible reports of a connection between Zika and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological disorder that can lead to paralysis. With GBS, a person’s immune system attacks nerve cells. It can last for weeks or months. In Brazil, which has been hit hard by Zika, an increasing number of people are also being reported with GBS. The CDC is investigating if there’s a connection.
4. There’s No Vaccine, But You Can Take Steps to Avoid Mosquito Bites
There’s no vaccine to prevent Zika and some experts say a vaccine could be 10 years away, BBC reported. The best way to not catch it is by not traveling to affected regions. You can also decrease your chance of getting a mosquito bite by taking a few steps recommended by the CDC:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants
- Use EPA-registered insect repellants only. If you’re wearing sunscreen, apply it first before the repellant.
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin, but don’t use permethrin directly on the skin.
- Sleep under a mosquito net if you’re outside.
- Stay in places with AC or keep window screens and door screens closed.
5. Some Countries Are Employing Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Fight the Virus
Some countries are taking a unique step and using genetically modified mosquitoes to fight the virus. Sterile male Aedes mosquitoes could reduce the population, CNN reported. Some worry that this could have an unknown effect on the environment.
In Southern Brazil, Piracicaba city had a pilot project in April 2014 that tested the genetically modified male mosquitoes. The mosquitoes reduced the population by 82 percent. The city will expand the program to other neighborhoods, Digital Journal reported. Oxitec, the company that breeds the GM mosquitoes, plans to produces millions after getting approval from Brazil.