Healthy Living

Zika Virus Symptoms: What Is Zika Virus and Travel Recommendations

Zika Virus Symptoms: What Is Zika Virus and Travel Recommendations

Key Takeaways

  • Zika is usually spread through the bite of mosquitoes from the Aedes species, particularly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus.
  • Pregnant women who are infected with the Zika virus can pass the virus to the fetus.
  • There is still no available medication or vaccine for Zika.

In 1947, the Zika virus was discovered and got its name from Uganda’s Zika Forest. The first human case of Zika was identified in 1952. Since then, outbreaks of the virus were reported in the Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa, although it was possible for Zika outbreaks to happen in other parts of the world.

There was a minimum of 14 Zika cases reported before the year 2007. Many Zika cases may not also be identified since Zika symptoms are quite the same to those of other types of diseases.

Zika is usually spread through the bite of mosquitoes from the Aedes species, particularly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. They actively bite both during the day and nighttime.

What are the symptoms of Zika?

Persons infected with the Zika virus can show the following symptoms:

  • Fever – Mild to high temperature can be seen in Zika patients. 
  • Rashes – Skin rashes can appear throughout the body, which can increase the discomfort.
  • Muscle pain – The pain can be in a small area of the body or the entire body. The pain's intensity can range from mild to excruciating. Sometimes, muscle pain can linger on for weeks and months. They can develop in any part of the body including the neck, back, legs, and even in the hands.
  • Joint pain - Joint pain can be very uncomfortable. Joint pain can be defined as pain, discomfort, or inflammation arising in any part of the joint, which includes the bone, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and muscles. Joint pain can also be a form of arthritis, which is pain or inflammation from the joint itself. 
  • Headache - May occur on one or both sides of the head, can be isolated to a certain area, and may radiate across from one point. It can be a throbbing or a dull ache. The pain can last from a few hours to days.
  • Pain behind the eyes – Sometimes, even the act of closing one’s eyes can also become painful--the eyeballs and the eyelids start aching.
  • Vomiting and nausea – There can be extreme discomfort since the food may not be digested well, which can lead to nausea and vomiting.
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye) – This is a common problem that can affect one or both eyes. The redness comes from the blood vessels on the surface of the eyes that become dilated due to the infection or from irritation. The eyes become watery and bright light can increase the redness and discomfort in the eyes. The patient may want to lie in the dark room or area until the infection subsides.

People who are infected with the Zika virus show no symptoms most of the time. However, some of the characteristic findings include an acute onset of fever accompanied by unusual skin rashes, conjunctivitis, or joint pain. There are also reports of headaches and generalized muscle pain.

The Zika virus disease usually shows mild symptoms that can last for a few days to one week. Moreover, severe Zika conditions that require hospital admission are quite rare. Hence, the disease has a low mortality rate.

However, according to CDC’s research, Guillain-Barré syndrome is strongly linked with Zika. Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare condition that affects the nervous system. It is an autoimmune disorder that damages the nerve cells, thereby causing weakness in the arms and legs or paralysis.

An infected pregnant woman can also transmit the virus to the fetus causing microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects. Microcephaly is a rare neurological condition, where the infant’s head is significantly smaller than a normal child's head. It is usually a result of an abnormal brain development of the fetus while in the womb or not growing as it should, after birth. This condition can be caused by environmental and genetic factors as well.

Children born with microcephaly will have developmental issues in the body and brain. There is no cure for microcephaly. However, you can help improve your child’s quality of life and development by early intervention using speech and occupational therapies.

The disease can cause developmental delay, intellectual deficiency, hearing and visual impairment, and epilepsy. Seizures and excessive irritability can also be seen in infants who were affected during gestation. Sometimes, children can also develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.

The symptoms of the Zika virus disease can last for one week up to 10 days. The Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted. Unfortunately, there is still no available medication or vaccine for Zika.

Zika virus prevention

1) Get rid of mosquito breeding sites

The best preventive measure for Zika is avoiding mosquito bites. Avoid mosquitoes by getting rid of their common breeding sites. The effective control and prevention of the infection will significantly depend on the source of mosquito breeding sites.

Always empty containers that can hold water such as tires, garden pots, tires, and buckets to successfully remove potential mosquito breeding sites.

2) Physical barriers

Avoid mosquito bites by applying insect repellents, wearing light-colored clothes, installing screens in doors and windows, and sleeping under a mosquito net.

Pay more attention in protecting other people from mosquito bites, especially those who are not capable of protecting themselves properly such as infants, children, the sick, or the elderly.

3) Insecticides

When there is an outbreak, insecticide spraying may be carried out by health authorities. These insecticide sprays can also be used to kill mosquito larvae present in huge water containers.

4) Safe sex 

Since the Zika virus can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, abstaining from sex eliminates the risk of getting the virus. Using male and female condoms can decrease the risk of viral transmission. Avoid sharing of sex toys to decrease the spread of the virus to sex partners. 

5) Travel safe

When traveling, make sure to take the previously mentioned precautions to protect yourself, your family, and friends against mosquito bites.

Treatment for Zika 

No specific treatment is needed for the Zika virus disease. People who are infected with the Zika virus must get plenty of rest, keep their bodies well-hydrated by drinking enough fluids, and take medicine to reduce pain and fever.

Until dengue fever is ruled out, avoid taking aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to minimize the risk of bleeding.

If symptoms tend to get worse, seek medical attention right away. Vaccination against Zika is also unavailable.

Zika travel recommendations

Travelers must strictly follow the guidelines against mosquito bites and abstain from sexual intercourse during and after the trip to avoid transmitting the virus to sex partners. Moreover, since Zika can cause birth defects to unborn babies, pregnant women should not travel to the following areas:

  • Argentina
  • El Salvador
  • Haiti
  • Brazil
  • Dominican Republic
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Panama, Paraguay, and Peru
  • Ecuador
  • Puerto Rico
  • Colombia
  • Belize, Costa Rica, and Cuba
  • Jamaica & Nicaragua
  • Singapore & Maldives

Diagnosis

The Zika virus disease can be confirmed through blood or urine test. Doctors and healthcare providers usually ask about your recent travels as well as the signs and symptoms you are experiencing. 

If think you are experiencing symptoms of the disease, consult a doctor immediately. Moreover, inform the doctor if you have lived in or have recently traveled to areas with Zika, or if you had unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who is from the Zika areas.

If you are currently pregnant and have a fever with unusual rashes, joint and muscle pain, headache, and pinkeye, and live in or recently traveled to areas with Zika, seek medical attention right away. Doctors may request for blood and urine tests to identify Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever and chikungunya. Make sure that you are tested for Zika even though you’re already feeling better. 

Pregnancy and Zika 

When pregnant women are infected with the Zika virus, they can transmit the virus to the fetus. The virus can cause microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by a smaller head when compared to normal, healthy newborns. Babies who have microcephaly also have developmental problems because of their small brain. 

Based on scientific observations and evidence, women who are not pregnant during their Zika infection do not have significant risks for birth defects when they get pregnant in the future. When people have been infected with the Zika virus, they are highly likely to be immune from future Zika infections.