There’s a new disease spreading across the world, causing health officials to sweat bullets. In fact, this article said it could be a bigger threat than Ebola (which killed 11,000 people).
It’s called the Zika virus. Have you heard of it? Here’s what has got the health officials so nervous:
- Infected people have no symptoms.
- There’s no vaccine or treatment – prevention is the best option.
- It has been recently proven to cause serious birth defects in pregnant women, who don’t realize they’ve been infected until after childbirth.
The disease is running rampant in Central and South America, and has shown up in Washington, Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Hawaii.
Officials don’t expect Zika to reach the epidemic levels seen in Latin America, but they do believe there will small cluster of outbreaks, particularly in Florida and Texas.
Since this is such a worrisome subject, and since our mission is to help encourage and educate new and pregnant mamas, we thought a comprehensive, well-researched article on the Zika Virus would come in handy.
What We Know About the Zika Virus
So here it is. Let’s go over what we know about the virus, what we don’t know, and then what we’re doing about it.
How Is It Spread?
- Mosquito bites
- Sexual contact
They have found traces of Zika in breastmilk, but have not found that it is transmitted that way or harms babies after they’ve been born. (In other words, keep breastfeeding.)
What Are the Symptoms?
The primary symptoms of the Zika Virus are…
- joint pain
- conjunctivitis (red eyes)
Are you starting to see the problem? Those are symptoms for zillions of things!
To make things worse, usually the symptoms are mild, lasting from several days to a week AFTER being bit by an infected mosquito. It is very rare for it to be severe enough to require hospitalization or death. (The first person to die from Zika in the US did so because he had a rare immunology disease.)
All of this means most people can walk around having the disease and not realize they are infected.
Why Is It So Serious?
Why all the fuss over something that has symptoms so light many people don’t even know they have it? Because it has now been officially linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, and other severe fetal brain defects.
Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is significantly smaller than expected because the brain has not developed in the womb properly. Click here to see a graphic of a baby with microcephaly.
Can It Be Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for the Zika virus. It also looks like there may not be one in the near future either:
“The real problem is that trying to develop a vaccine that would have to be tested on pregnant women is a practical and ethical nightmare,” – Mike Turner, head of infection and immuno-biology at the Wellcome Trust. (Source)
However, once a person has been infected, scientists believe he or she would be likely protected from future infections. This means that the best treatment against Zika is prevention.
How Can We Prevent It?
If you are pregnant, here are some things you can do to minimize your chances of getting infected.
- Don’t travel to an area that has a Zika outbreak. (Check this travel map by the CDC.)
- Wear long sleeved shirts and pants to avoid getting bit.
- Stay inside, in areas with window or door screens or air conditioning, if you are in an area with an outbreak.
- Use EPA-registered insect repellants. These have been shown to be safe for pregnant/breastfeeding moms. (This simple questionnaire can help you find a safe insect repellant.)
- Avoid areas where there is standing water, since that is where mosquitoes breed.
- If your husband has traveled to Zika areas, use a condom during sex or abstain during the pregnancy to avoid having the virus sexually transmitted.
What We Don’t Know About the Zika Virus
Unfortunately, according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) there’s a lot of information that we don’t know in regards to this new link between the Zika virus and microcephaly. Here’s what it says on their website:
If a pregnant woman is exposed to the Zika Virus…
- We don’t know how likely it is she will actually get infected with the Zika virus.
If a pregnant woman is infected with the Zika virus…
- We don’t know how the virus will affect her or her pregnancy.
- We don’t know how likely it is that Zika will pass to her baby.
- We don’t know if the baby is infected, if the baby will develop birth defects.
- We don’t know when in pregnancy the infection might cause harm to the baby.
- We don’t know whether her baby will have birth defects.
- We don’t know if the sexual transmission of the Zika virus poses a different risk of birth defects than if the mother had been infected by a mosquito.
- We don’t know how long the virus stays in the semen of men who have Zika.
The good news, is that health officials do NOT think that a woman who is currently infected with the Zika virus increases the chance of future children having birth defects, after the virus has cleared her blood.
What We’re Doing About the Zika Virus
The US Government is currently working to pass a bill that will transfer $500 million from Ebola research into a new Zika research initiative in April, 2016.
They will use the funds to answer some of the questions above, and also to develop faster testing methods. The current tests take a week to get results.
Besides funding, there is a current plan being moved forward in Key West, Florida using genetically modified mosquitoes. These tests have shown some promising success in Brazil. The FDA has determined that these modified insects would be not be harmful to people, the environment, or animals.
Update: As of August 2016, the bill is currently stalled out as they argue over Harry Reid’s requirement that the bill include funding for Planned Parenthood. Personally, I’d drop the silly political games, fund the bill without the PP requirement, and save babies instead, but that’s just me. (Most people don’t use Planned Parenthood for contraceptives, anyway.) I digress.
Learn More About the Zika Virus
When it comes to things like this, Knowledge is a good big stick. By arming yourself with the details on what the Zika virus is, and how you can prevent it, we can help stem the tide of an outbreak.
For more helpful information on the Zika virus, here are some good resources:
- Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) main Zika update website here.
- This is an excellent pamphlet on how to prevent mosquito bites while traveling.
- To learn more about microcephaly, click here.
- Want to donate? Project Hope has doctors and staff working with affected populations in Latin America. Click here to learn more.
Don’t Be Dismayed. Be Diligent
Mosquitoes have developed a snacking taste for pregnant women, unfortunately. Scientist tracked that pregnant women attract twice as many mosquitoes as non-pregnant women. They postulate two reasons for this:
- The pesky little buggars like carbon dioxide, and since pregnant women take shallower breaths more often…it’s an irresistible “perfume” drawing them in.
- They are heat-seeking insects, and expectant mothers usually have a higher body temperature.
This, in terms of the Zika virus, really sucks. (Didya catch my pun?)
Should you panic? NO.
Should you share this information with your pregnant friends? YES.
This isn’t the end of the world. If you’re a pregnant mama, resist the temptation to be anxious. It gains you nothing and may even make things worse. Pregnancy and stress are not happy bedfellows.
Pray about it, learn how to prevent it, and then take steps (like buying a good bug spray) to keep those buggars as far away from your bloodstream as possible this summer.
There’s a lot of information floating around about bug sprays with DEET and pregnancy, but some officials are saying that the Zika risk outweighs the DEET risk and pregnant mothers should use the strongest bug spray possible to prevent getting bitten. (Here’s the Live Science article for you to read through.)
What do you think? Will you be using the DEET mosquito repellants?
Is there anything I haven’t covered? Any questions I can help with? (I’m not a doctor, but I could refer you to some articles!)
Let me know in the comments!
I ♥ Citations