The Zika virus is a viral disease carried by mosquitoes. While the virus was first discovered in humans in the 1950's, until recently it was isolated to Africa and parts of Asia. However, as technology improved and world travel became part of everyday life, the Zika virus has been able to spread to previously-unavailable areas, namely the United States.
As a Georgia resident, it is imperative that you know everything you can about the Zika Virus so that you can keep your family safe.
The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 by scientists conducting routine surveillance for yellow fever in the Zika forest in Uganda, Africa. Named for its place of discovery, the virus was first observed in a captive Rhesus macaque monkey.
The first known human infection was recorded in 1952, five years after the initial discovery of the virus. From that point onward, the virus was able to spread across the African continent and spread into parts of equatorial Asia including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Pakistan. Like the disease it resembled, yellow fever, Zika was determined to be spread by infected mosquitoes.
While the Zika virus remained relatively obscure to the western world for over fifty years, that all changed in 2015, when the virus came to North and South America. Before this outbreak, the virus was considered only a mild infection, with the worst known symptoms being fever and rash.
In February 2016, as mounting evidence shed light on the long-term effects of the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika outbreak a public health emergency. Several countries issued travel warnings, creating a drastic negative impact on tourism; some countries even told their citizens not to get pregnant until more was known about the virus.
Awareness of Zika came to a head during the 2016 Summer Olympics, when concerns arose about the safety of athletes competing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a Zika hotspot. Luckily, according to WHO, no athletes or spectators were reported to have contracted the virus over the course of the games.
Since 2015, only one known case has been reported in Georgia, but cases have also been reported in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico, as well as in popular vacation destinations such as the Bahamas and Jamaica.
The WHO announced the end of the Zika epidemic in November 2016. However, while the threat of Zika has lessened, there is still no known cure, and the threat of another outbreak remains.
Part of the reason Zika is so dangerous comes from the fact that most infected people will experience few, if any, symptoms. Even if symptoms are present, they are generally mild, including fever, rash, headache, joint pain, muscle pain, and red eyes.
These symptoms generally last no more than a week, and are often not severe enough for hospitalization. The result is that infected persons may not realize they have contracted the disease and might not seek medical treatment, allowing the virus to spread even further.
The True Danger of Zika
For decades, Zika was considered a mild infection. That all changed in 2015 when it was discovered that the presence of the virus in pregnant women could lead to birth defects, miscarriage, and stillbirth. Of the babies that survive, many are born with abnormally-small heads and underdeveloped brains.
In addition to transmission through mosquito bites, it was also discovered that the Zika virus could be transmitted through sexual contact. This meant that mothers were at an even greater risk than previously understood, because they could contract the disease without ever visiting an infected area.
Zika Virus is spread through mosquito bites, sexual intercourse, and blood transfusions. Currently, mosquitoes are the only animals known to be able to transmit the virus to humans. While there are few reported cases, many areas in the United States including Georgia are home to Aedes aegypti (yellow fever mosquitoes) and (Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquitoes), the type of mosquitoes that spread Zika. While these mosquitoes live in Georgia, there have not been any locally acquired Zika cases in Georgia.
Even if your partner has no symptoms, the virus can still be present and transmitted sexually. Zika can survive in semen for up to 6 months and can be transmittable by a woman for up to 8 weeks. Condoms and dental dams can reduce the risk of transmission, but abstinence is the only true method of prevention from sexual transmission.
Due to the advanced screening processes used, there have been no recorded incidences of infection through blood transfusions in the United States. However, cases of transmission through transfusion have been recorded in other countries, particularly in Brazil.
There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus, but if you are traveling to an at-risk area, there are several precautions you should take:
- Wear long sleeve shirts and pants and use insect repellant when you are out.
- While you're indoors, stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens.
- If you can't stay in a place with the above amenities, sleep under a mosquito net.
Mosquitoes bite day and night, so precautions should be taken at all times. For more information about the Zika virus and how you can protect yourself and your family, check out the Center for Disease Control's article on Zika transmission prevention.
Zika is just one of the many diseases that mosquitoes spread. For more information about the threat mosquitoes pose to your home, and how you can stop them, download our free informative Ebook, How to Keep Mosquitoes Out of Your Yard This Summer.