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5 Things You Need to Know About Zika Virus

With the warm summer months come the risk of pesky mosquitoes biting at your ankles. While this may seem like an itchy seasonal norm, the recent outbreak of Zika virus has doctors and healthcare providers warning everyone to take steps to protect themselves, even if that means reconsidering travel.

With reports of babies being born in the U.S. with birth defects related to Zika virus and athletes talking about skipping the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro due to the widening spread of Zika in Brazil, here’s what you need to know about the virus and protecting yourself from it.

1. It’s transmitted by the Aedes mosquito

This species of mosquito can also spread dengue fever, yellow fever, and chikungunya viruses in addition to Zika.

“[Zika] prevention efforts are geared toward avoiding mosquito bites,” said Dr. Maureen Cassin, an Abington-Jefferson Health physician specializing in infectious diseases. “Strategies include the use of protective clothing, air conditioning, bed nets, and EPA-registered insect repellents. Clothes can also be treated with permethrin.”

You can also prevent mosquito bites by getting rid of potential breeding sites on your property.

“Mosquitoes breed in standing fresh water so it is important to rid the environment of potential breeding sites,” she said, noting one source of standing fresh water includes bird baths.

2. There aren’t any U.S. acquired cases of Zika yet

There also haven’t been any cases in the U.S. of Zika transmission through blood transfusions. However, Dr. Cassin said there have been approximately 544 travel-associated Zika infections.

“The Aedes mosquito is present in the southern U.S., particularly in the Gulf states, so there is potential for Zika to spread in the U.S.,” she said.

3. Men and women should be concerned about Zika

Pregnant women and women who want to become pregnant are warned to avoid traveling to Zika endemic areas since there is an association between Zika infection during pregnancy and severe brain defects in children.

“I would advise pregnant women to avoid these areas given the potential risk of infection,” Dr. Cassin said. But, there have been 10 cases of sexually-transmitted Zika infection in the U.S., so it’s possible to acquire the infection without traveling.

“Sexual partners of pregnant women also have a risk of becoming infected and transmitting the virus so they may want to avoid [Zika-endemic] areas too,” she said.

To avoid sexually transmitting Zika, Dr. Cassin recommends partners of travelers avoid sexual contact or use condoms.

4. You may or may not experience symptoms

“Many people don’t even realize that they have been infected,” Dr. Cassin said. If you do get infected with Zika, you may experience fever, rash, muscle aches, joint pain, headaches and red eyes – symptoms similar to dengue and chikungunya virus infections, which occur in the same geographic areas as Zika. “The illness is generally mild and goes away in about a week,” she said. “There is no vaccine or treatment.”

5. The CDC is investigating the link to Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the link between Zika and GBS, an uncommon sickness of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness, and sometimes, paralysis. The Brazil Ministry of Health has reported an increased number of people who have been infected with the Zika virus who also have GBS.

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