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15 Critical Things Every Parent Must Know About Zika Disease

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The Zika Virus, which was first documented in Uganda in 1947, has recently become an international health crisis. Outbreaks didn’t occur beyond the African boarders until the year 2007, when it extended to the South Pacific. Zika has never been considered to be a severe infectious disease – until now. With more cases being reported from different parts of the world, it has become imperative that everyone be fully informed about this viral infection. Here are the most critical things that every parent must know about Zika Disease:

Firstly, What is Zika?

Before we dive into 15 things you need to know about zika disease as a parent, let’s explain what zika is. Zika is a mosquito-infected ailment whose spread has been declared an international health emergency by the World Health Organization. This disease is closely related to West Nile Virus, Yellow Fever and Dengue. There is no vaccine against the virus as of now, but efforts to make one are underway.

1. Statistics on Spread of Zika Virus

The question that most people are posing to their respective health departments is – are we at risk? While this virus does not naturally occur in the United Kingdom, outbreaks have been reported in the Pacific region, and it has now extended to the Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.

According to WHO, at least 42 countries and territories have affirmed local, vector-borne transmission of the virus in the Region of the Americans since 2015. In addition, Canada has documented about 170 travel-related Zika disease cases detected as of 28th July, 2016. Statistics also indicate that there are Zika epidemiological situations in Mexico, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Colombia, Saint Martin and Guadeloupe.

2. How the Zika Virus is Transmitted

There are two ways in which the Zika Virus is transmitted – by mosquito bites and by sex. There are two breeds of mosquito namely Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus that are responsible for the spread of the Zika Virus. The virus is transmitted to people once they are bitten by either of those two infected breeds. This makes Zika similar to various other mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus, dengue fever and chikungunya.

After a person is infected with the virus, there’s an incubation period whereby the virus spreads through the bloodstream, ranging from 3-14 days. After the incubation period, the infected person can transmit the disease to mosquitoes within a duration of one week.

Besides being transmitted by mosquitoes, it has been confirmed that the virus can also be spread through sex. This means that infected persons can pass the virus to their respective sexual partners, even before they start to exhibit symptoms of the infection. Partners who are or had been infected, or had traveled to an area where Zika is spreading, are highly advised to use condoms for at least 6 months. Brazilian scientists have found presence of the Zika virus in urine and saliva of infected people.

3. Zika Fever Symptoms to Watch Out For

According to Amesh Adalja, the spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, only 1 in 5 patients will show Zika Virus symptoms. The commonest symptoms to watch out for include:

•Chills, fever, sweating
•Joint pains
•Muscle pain and aches
•Conjunctivitis/redness in the whites of the eye
•Appetite loss

In unusual cases, infected patients can develop Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a condition whereby the immune system attacks the nerves, causing muscle weakness and paralysis. According to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is uncommon for patients to require hospitalization from a Zika virus infection.

4. The Incubation Period for a Zika Virus Infection

The incubation period for Virus Zika is about 3-12 days after having been bitten by an infected mosquito. Symptoms may manifest for a duration of 4-7 days. Approximately 60-80 percent of infected people do not exhibit signs or symptoms. The incubation period for Zika virus infection that has been sexually transmitted is still under investigation.

5. The Contagious Period for Zika Virus Infection

The virus can survive in semen longer than in other body fluids such as blood, urine and vaginal fluids. While the contagious period for the virus infection has not been completely defined, there are some recommendations that have been made, i.e. Couples should abstain from sex or use condoms for at least 8 weeks after diagnosis.

6. Who is Most At Risk of Zika Virus Complications

According to health experts, unborn babies are most at risk from Zika Virus complications. If a pregnant woman happens to be infected with the virus, there can be horrific effects on the baby. However, it is not clear when in pregnancy the consequences of the virus infection are greatest.

7. Effect of Zika Virus on Pregnancy

For the comparatively few people who display symptoms of Zika virus infection, the disease is often very mild. However, in pregnant women, the effects can be distressing. Those effects can include loss of pregnancy or the baby can be born with anomalies such as small head and brain, a condition that is referred to as Microcephaly.

Microcephaly is associated with seizures, mental retardation, delays in development, speech and movement, and at times it can be fatal. According to studies, the virus has been detected in amniotic fluid, fetal tissues, the placenta and full-term infants. Trace amounts of the virus have also been found in breast milk though amount is tiny, thus unlikely to pose a serious threat.

8. How Pregnant Women can Protect Themselves Against Zika Infection

Due to the increased risk pregnant women and their unborn babies face, it is highly advisable that travel plans to areas with reported outbreaks be cancelled. If it is a must for a pregnant woman to travel to affected areas, it is imperative that they take all precautionary measures to avoid infection.

9. Can Breastfeeding Mothers Infect their Babies?

Even though some studies have confirmed that breast milk contains traces of the virus, there is no evidence that shows that the virus can be transmitted to breastfeeding babies. It is, however, crucial for breastfeeding mothers who may have been exposed to the virus to take precautionary measures to ensure that they do not pass the virus to their breastfeeding babies.

10. Understanding The Various Zika Virus Treatment Options Available

While there is no known vaccine that can be used to prevent infection, there is also no specific medication that can be used to treat Zika infection. The only Zika virus treatment that is available is aimed at lessening the symptoms associated with the disease. Oral and IV hydration assists in reducing dehydration and symptoms. As for pregnant women, they require individualized treatment to ensure that both the mother and the fetus are safe.

11. Specialists that Treat Zika Infections

Patients can acquire treatment from their primary-care doctors, including family medicine internists or specialists. When complications arise, OB/GYN doctors, neurologists, pediatric intensive-care specialists and maternal/fetal specialists can be consulted. Additionally, travel-medicine specialist and infectious-disease specialists can also be consulted about Zika virus infections. 

12. Exams and Tests Used to Diagnose Zika Virus Infection

Health experts start diagnosis with a history and physical exam. Patients are required to provide their health-care provides with details about their recent travel to areas where there are reports of Zika Fever. In case an infection is suspected, blood tests are likely to be conducted to detect the viruses in order to differentiate between similar infections such as Chikungunya virus and dengue virus.

13. When To Seek Zika Fever Treatment

Just like with other ailments, it is imperative that medical attention be sought as soon as one becomes infected or exhibits symptoms of Zika infection. Expectant mothers are highly advised to consult their doctors in case they develop rash, fever, red eyes or joint pain, most especially if they live in an area where Zika virus outbreak has been confirmed or reported in the last 2 weeks.

14. Home Remedies for Zika Virus Infection

If you have noticed Zika symptoms, there are some home remedies that you can rely on. They include:
•Take fluids in plenty to prevent dehydration.
•Use over-the-counter medications, i.e. acetaminophen to alleviate pain and fever.
•Use antihistamines (Diphenhydramine) to lessen itching.
•Avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and aspirin until dengue fever is ruled out. This will help reduce the risk of bleeding.

15. Precautionary Measures To Take To Prevent Zika Virus Infection

There are various precautionary measures that you can take to avoid infection. They include:

• Prevent Mosquito Breeding

The first precautionary measure to take is to prevent the breeding of the Aedes mosquito, which is easily identifiable by the distinctive white and black stripes on its body. This species likes breeding in clean, stagnant water, which makes it imperative for you to drain any stagnant water in your home.

• Use protective gear against mosquito bites

Mosquito bites can also be prevented by wearing long, covered clothing at all times. Sleeping under treated insect mosquito nets is also highly recommended. It is also advisable that you apply insect-repellents to dispel mosquitoes.

• Adopt safe sex practices

As for travelers returning from countries or areas with ongoing Zika outbreaks, they should adopt safer sexual practices to prevent transmitting the virus to their sexual partners. Abstinence is highly recommended in such cases. If abstinence is not an option, condom use should be adopted.

• Avoid traveling to affected areas

Traveling to countries or areas with Zika outbreak should be restricted. If it is a must that you travel to an affected area, it is highly important that you observe the above precautionary measures.