Is it a case of crying wolf?


We have a new disease to be afraid of. Another strange name, and another we have known of, but don’t fully understand, it would seem.

This is another viral illness caused by the Zika virus, who travels the globe on the wings of our old friend, the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This blight upon our doorsteps also carried Dengue virus, Chikungunya, and Yellow fever.

Zika is not new having been first noted in the late 1940’s, and it was not considered to be dangerous as opposed to Dengue, for example.

From the US Center for Disease Control, only about 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill (i.e., develop Zika).

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.

Another important factor is people usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika, so the statistics are skewed.

Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week but it can be found longer in some people, which makes it even harder to diagnose.

The symptoms of Zika are similar to those of Dengue and Chikungunya and spread through the same mosquitoes.

So how do we even know to look for accurate figures, when more than half the time the infected patient has no symptoms?

With the WHO hot on the trail and stirring up the planet’s interest, the CDC suggests see your healthcare provider if you develop the symptoms described above and have visited an area where Zika is found.

This came about after the World Health Organization (WHO) chaired a meeting to assess the level of threat. 18 experts and advisers looked in particular at the strong association, in time and place, between infection with the Zika virus and a rise in detected cases of congenital malformations and neurological complications. The experts agreed that a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven. All agreed on the urgent need to coordinate international efforts to investigate and understand this relationship better.

If you have been in an area known for Zika, your healthcare provider may order specialized blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viruses like dengue or chikungunya.

Treatment is equally vague. There is no vaccine to prevent or specific medicine to treat Zika infections.

The advice is to treat the symptoms:

Get plenty of rest.

Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.

Take medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) to relieve fever and pain.

Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.

If you have Zika, prevent mosquito bites for the first week of your illness. During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.

So we have a “new” virus to scare people with. Unfortunately, that is the situation. We are getting so much negative publicity about a virus we never even thought to look for, but now, we are chasing a virus that gives no symptoms for 4 out of 5 cases and we still don’t have definitive tie – in between the virus and other medical conditions.

Areas with active mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus

Prior to 2015, Zika virus outbreaks occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. (But nothing here!)

In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infections in Brazil.

Zika virus will continue to spread and it will be difficult to determine how and where the virus will spread over time.

(I think the most important thing to do is to give up reading!)