The Zika virus is spreading like a wild fire and many people are not even aware of it. Every day, new cases are diagnosed, and several U.S. states are reporting cases of this infectious disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Currently, in early 2016, more outbreaks are occurring in many other countries.
The Zika virus belongs to the flavivirus family and is related to dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and West Nile disease.
This virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, the same mosquitoes that carry dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. The virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected female mosquito.
Those infected with Zika should take steps to prevent getting mosquito bites during the first week of their illness, as the virus is present in the blood and can be easily passed from an infected person back to a mosquito.
An infected mosquito then spreads the virus to other people. In general, the virus is not contagious from person to person.
Although it was first discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947, there is no vaccine or treatment to stop or control outbreaks.
Symptoms and Detection
The incubation period of this viral disease is not clear, but experts believe that it might be a few days. Its symptoms are similar to other infections, such as dengue, and usually last for 2 to 7 days.
According to the WHO, common signs and symptoms include mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis (red eye), muscle and joint pain, malaise and headaches. The symptoms are not chronic and rarely cause death.
However, about 80 percent of people who become infected with this virus do not show any symptoms.
To detect Zika, a blood or tissue sample must be sent to an advanced laboratory. The virus can be detected through sophisticated molecular testing.
Risk to Unborn Children
There is growing evidence that the Zika virus, when contracted during pregnancy, is linked to the birth defect microcephaly (characterized by abnormal smallness of the head).
Microcephaly can lead to mental retardation, as well as delays in speech, movement and growth in newborn babies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women should delay travel to areas where the Zika virus is spreading.
In fact, pregnant women returning from Zika-affected areas should be tested for it, and men with pregnant partners should avoid sexual activities for some time.