Fact: Not everyone with Zika will actually experience symptoms. (Photo: Getty Images/Yahoo Health)
The effects of the Zika virus are worrying health officials around the globe, with the World Health Organization even convening an emergency committee to discuss its “explosive” spread.
While most people who contract the virus — which is spread by mosquitoes — typically feel only mild symptoms for a few days to a week, Zika is particularly concerning for women who are pregnant. The reason: The virus has been linked to a troubling birth defect called microcephaly, which is when the baby is born with an abnormally small head. This can lead to mental problems, speech delays, and movement and growth problems.
In fact, Brazil in particular has experienced a huge number of cases of microcephaly since last October — approximately 4,000. (Compare that with the previous average of 160 cases per year.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning pregnant women against traveling to countries where Zika is prevalent.
But how can you tell if you have Zika to begin with?
Well, firstly, realize that you could have Zika and not even realize it — just one in five people experiences symptoms at all, notes William E. Schweizer, MD, clinical associate professor and medical director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Then, consider your travel history — have you recently traveled to a country experiencing a Zika outbreak? A number of countries in Latin and South America have Zika cases, including Paraguay, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. (You can see the CDC’s full list here.)
Next, examine your symptoms. Zika’s are very similar to any other kind of cold bug, with some distinctions. For most people with Zika, symptoms are “going to be extremely mild — a little fever, a little rash, a little joint pain. It’s the conjunctivitis, the red eyes, that I think is a little more unique than what you see with the flu or a cold,” Schweizer tells Yahoo Health. “But again, not everybody’s going to exhibit the symptoms.”
According to the CDC, other symptoms of Zika can include muscle pain and headache. While it’s not known how long it takes to go from exposure to the virus to experiencing symptoms, the CDC says it’s probably a few days to a week.
There is no treatment for or vaccine against Zika virus. If you get it, the typical treatment protocol is to rest up, drink lots of fluids, take medication to reduce fever or pain (such as acetaminophen), and do your best to avoid mosquito bites (since it’s transmitted via mosquitoes, a mosquito could pass the virus via your infected blood to someone else). Do not take aspirin or other NSAID drugs, though, since Zika symptoms can be similar to dengue virus, which carries a hemorrhage risk if these drugs are taken.
Additional reporting by Amy Rushlow.
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