The World Health Organisation has declared that the Zika virus is an international public health emergency.
What is the Zika Virus?
Zika is a disease that’s carried by mosquitos. It’s hitting the headlines at the moment because for the first time it’s gone global. Previously affecting only the Pacific island of Yap and French Polynesia, it was not globally significant. Last year, however, transmission of the virus started in Brazil before spreading, and for the first time it’s been linked to brain damage to foetuses that can cause lifelong cognitive and health issues.
How does it affect pregnant women?
The Zika virus causes microcephaly, which affects brain growth in foetuses leading to small heads and brain damage. If you are pregnant or if there’s a strong possibility that you might get pregnant in the foreseeable future, you are strongly advised to avoid possible contact with the virus. The most dangerous time is thought to be during the first trimester, a time when some women do not even realise they’re pregnant.
I’m not pregnant, what should I do?
Because 50% of pregnancies are unplanned you are advised to visit areas where the Zika virus has been identified only if you are using contraception religiously. Many affected countries have advised the female population to avoid getting pregnant until 2018. It’s common for women to not know that they’re pregnant until their second or third month, and this is when the virus can do the most damage.
What are the symptoms?
The Zika virus causes symptoms in one out of every five infected. If you do get it you may experience:
- Joint pain
- Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
- Muscle pain
Often people who do experience symptoms do not require hospital care, and recover in 3-7 days. Zika virus is very rarely fatal.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, and have recently travelled to an area where Zika is found, it’s important you seek medical attention. You can speak to a babylon GP in minutes wherever you are, so there’s no need to wait to discuss your concerns.
Is there a cure?
No. As it’s a virus it should resolve naturally. For children affected by Microcephaly, there is often no cure.
Dr. Umang Patel says:
“If you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant, and have had any illnesses that have worried you - you can speak to a babylon GP. That is not limited to if you have travelled to anywhere on this list, however if you have been abroad we can help advise you about what you should do next...”
Where is Zika currently found?
- American Samoa
- Cape Verde
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- French Guiana
- Puerto Rico
- Saint Martin
- U.S. Virgin Islands
How is it spread?
Because few of us have immune defences against the virus it’s spreading rapidly. It’s spread mostly by mosquitos that exist everywhere, but multiply in warmer weather. The virus can be transmitted during sex, but this is rare. If you think you might have been infected with the virus, you should use condoms for at least 28 days.