What Is (and What Isn't) Zika Virus?

By now, you have undoubtedly read about the Zika virus. There has been a lot of controversy in its wake, particularly in regards to how the governments in the Americas are handling it, it's been made out to be the next apocalypse, and I have already gotten concerned e-mails from my mother. The New York Times came out with a great article about the epidemic and how it affects us, so let's have a discussion about it before you call off your holiday abroad.

The Zika virus is related to dengue and yellow fever, but...

Good news! Only 20% of people affected by it will show symptoms. Even then, the symptoms include fever, rash, and joint pain, but will very rarely require hospitalization. 80% of people with the virus will never know they even had it. According to current research, Zika virus' incubation period is fairly short, and once infected, you will have the infection in your body for a few days to a week.

The Zika virus can cause microcephaly in babies, but...

The evidence is circumstantial. One of the effects of pregnant women getting infected with Zika virus appears to be that their babies are born with small heads and brain damage, but there could be other circumstances and infections that are also causing cases of microcephaly to rise. They also don't know what percentage of expectant mothers affected with Zika will have it transfer to their babies. Current investigations are indicating that Zika virus is not the only reason that microcephaly is on the rise.

The Zika virus is not known to linger in the body, and those who were infected and recovered are immune, so...

It's okay to get pregnant after visiting a country with Zika virus, as long as you get yourself tested. If you were in Brazil last year and are pregnant now, you don't need to overwhelm yourself with worry. However, you should still go get all the tests necessary throughout your pregnancy to ensure a safe pregnancy and healthy baby.

The first trimester is when the fetus is most susceptible, so if you suspect that you became pregnant while you were in an area with Zika virus, you should go get yourself tested and test your baby after birth as well. You can use ultrasound to check for microcephaly late into the second trimester or early in the third.

There is no treatment for Zika virus, but...

That's because in general, the symptoms are so mild that they don't require treatment.

Make sure to read through the New York Times article because it's full of really good information. As with any pregnancy, you should always be aware and proceed in a way that will benefit your baby's development best, but if you don't plan on getting pregnant any time soon, then don't let this dissuade you from traveling abroad. You should protect yourself against mosquito bites since there are other diseases, like dengue, yellow fever and malaria that you can get infected with anywhere in the world, but please avoid using DEET, as that's not very good for you. Remember, your skin is the biggest organ on your body and you absorb everything through it, so opt for more natural protectants, or wear long clothing at sunset when the mosquitoes are out the most. Zika can also be transmitted through blood transfusions and sexual contact, but once again, if you do get infected and do show symptoms, they should normally last no longer than a week.

As always, when you're traveling anywhere, make sure to read up on the area you're traveling to. A lot of governments will require proof of shots to get in and out of the country, like yellow fever vaccinations, so do your research and get whatever shots necessary. Be aware and respectful of the place you are visiting, but most importantly, have a great trip!