AFRAID OF ZIKA?
Take steps to protect children, sexual partners
Take steps to protect children, sexual partners
It’s easy to get caught up in trending fears without first knowing the facts — and lately, one of those fads has been concern over the Zika virus.
Faye Mirfakhraee, educator in the Willis-Knighton Health System Infection Prevention Department, is a local expert on the matter. Should people be scared? The answer is a surprising yes and no.
“The Zika virus is not particularly harmful to the human adult body, but it is detrimental to a fetus in a mother’s womb,” said Mirfakhraee.
The Zika virus, which originated in Uganda in the Zika forest, is rare among adults. However, it’s incredibly dangerous for a developing baby. “If you are a woman of child-bearing years or if you are pregnant, you must take every precaution to not get infected, especially during the first trimester,” said Mirfakhraee. “The virus actually eats the brain cells of a growing fetus.”
The Center for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) is a thorough resource for current updated information on the virus. It also offers a list of 50 countries worldwide that are on the infected list, including the United States in the southern region. Other affected regions include but are not limited to Africa, Brazil, Asia, Bolivia, Peru, the Pacific Islands, Colombia, Haiti, Jamaica, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama and Cuba. Currently, there have been 820 cases reported of the Zika virus in the United States, and 265 reported cases of infection in pregnant women in the United States.
The symptoms of the Zika virus are very similar to that of the common flu — joint pain, fever, headaches, conjunctivitis and, unlike the flu, rash. The CDC advises Tylenol to relieve fever in these cases, as opposed to acetaminophen.
If you have traveled to the infected countries, or if you have been physically intimate with someone who was recently in those countries and begin to show the above symptoms, you should treat the symptoms as you would the flu. In a healthy adult, the virus should run its course in five to seven days.
However, if you’re a pregnant woman or believe you could be pregnant, contact your OBGYN immediately and schedule periodic ultrasound for monitoring of the baby and the damaged brain cells. Thirteen percent of women who contract the Zika virus during pregnancy develop babies with permanent issues or eventually miscarry.
The Zika virus is more easily contracted than one might think. “Living in the South, it is crucial to get rid of mosquitos in and around your house,” said Mirfakhraee. “Use screens and air conditioners. When you go outside for a period of time, be sure to wear long sleeves and pants. Also, use a bug spray with DEET ingredient, which is safe for pregnant women.”
Mosquitos can also lurk and linger in places you wouldn’t expect. “Even a bottle cap full of rainwater is enough to attract mosquitos and have them lay thousands of eggs,” said Mirfakhraee. “If we can even just get rid of the mosquitos in the immediate area, we have done a good job because they don’t travel very far. They are localized.” This eliminates the immediate concern, as mosquitos don’t travel far distances, not even across the city.
A common misconception about the Zika virus is the belief that it can spread through kissing or simple contact. “That is not true,” said Mirfakhraee. “It is sexually transmitted, but not via personto-person contact.”
The CDC advises that if one is pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant soon, they should not travel to the infected countries. “Almost all of the cases of infection in the United States were from travelers to other countries who brought the disease back and transmitted it to their partner,” said Mirfakhraee. “It is a sexually transmitted virus from men to women, but not from women to men.”
Another advised precaution is the correct use of condoms if your partner has been sick while traveling in an infected country — or safer still, abstinence for six months after the person who traveled returns home.
One factor that locals might not realize is that someone who is infected with the virus could be bitten by a mosquito, and that mosquito could then transmit the disease. “If an infected person gets bitten by a mosquito, it can carry it to others,” said Mirfakhraee. “If you have this virus, please stay inside, because you could risk spreading the disease.”
According to Mirfakhraee, recent lab results are showing positive progress in mouse-testing a vaccine, which should be implemented soon. Until that time, people should take the utmost care in prevention.
For more information and statistics on the Zika virus, visit www.cdc.gov.
– Betsy St. Amant
5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT MOSQUITOS
• Get rid of all standing water in your yard
• Move plants from the shade to the sun so they stay dry
• Remove yard clutter and debris, including glass clipping and leaf piles
• Burn citronella candles or torches, or try outdoor garlic sprays
• Tie tarps and covers tightly over grills or other outdoor accessories that could hide water