The Zika virus has now spread to over 20 countries in the Americas. This mosquito-borne disease is causing panic in the affected regions. However, it is not the immediate mild effects which are worrying people but what can happen to unborn babies when pregnant women are infected. There is a suspected link with this virus and brain defects in babies.
The virus is expected to spread through North, Central and South America but not to Chile and Canada. Currently in South America there are a few countries with no reported cases including Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru.
So what is the recommended advice about travelling if you are planning to visit one of the affected countries? And the answer is if you are pregnant you should avoid travel. It is believed that in the female body the disease can travel across the placenta and therefore able to affect the health of the unborn baby.
In Brazil there has been a surge in microcephaly - in which the baby's brain does not develop properly. The advice is not to travel to affected areas if you are pregnant and if you have to travel then every precaution should be taken to avoid mosquito bites. It is also suggested that women who are hoping to get pregnant soon should talk to their doctors before leaving and again take extra precautions to avoid getting bitten.
It is said that Zika stays in the body for approximately 1 week and therefore should not affect any babies who are conceived after the virus has been cleared from the blood stream. However, it is thought the virus can stay in semen for two weeks after a man recovers from an infection. Few countries have any specific advice for men although Public England Health have said men should wear condoms if their partner is pregnant or might become pregnant. This is recommended for 28 days on return home and for 6 months if signs of Zika develop. The spreading of the virus sexually is considered to be very low but cases have been reported so a safety first approach is encouraged.
Zika is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito which is most active during the day.
The advice is to cover up with long sleeves and trousers, use repellant containing DEET or picaridin, apply sunscreen before repellant and to keep windows and doors closed and use air conditioning.
Most infections do not result in symptoms, but they could include: fever, joint pain, muscle pain, itching, rash, conjunctivitis or red eyes, headache and eye pain.
If you believe you have contracted the Zika virus you should speak to your doctor. The US Centers for Disease Control recommends taking paracetamol for fever and pain but not aspirin or ibuprofen, also to drink lots of water and get plenty of rest. And do your best to avoid any further bites as this will obviously help with reducing the spread of the disease.
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