You may have heard several news reports about the Zika virus recently, but how much do you really know about the disease, and would you recognize the symptoms if you had it? We answer all the most important questions that Austin residents have about the Zika virus.

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus is a flavivirus which is primarily transmitted via mosquitoes. Although originally identified in monkeys in Uganda around 60 years ago, the Zika virus didn’t have too much of an impact on humans until 2007 when there was a major outbreak in Micronesia. Prior to that, human infections throughout Africa and Asia were only reported to cause mild illness. Outbreaks were not reported in the western world until May 2015 when infections were reported in Brazil, and a connection was made between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes the body’s immune system to attack the nervous system and weaken or even paralyze the muscles.

What are the symptoms?

The Zika virus has an incubation period of two to 14 days, which means it could take up to two weeks before an infected person shows symptoms of the virus.

Symptoms include:

– Low fever
– Raised rash on the face, chest, limbs and back
– Pain in joints, particularly on hands and feet
– Conjunctivitis, also known as ‘pink eye’

Most people infected with the Zika virus find that the symptoms dissipate within a week. It is also believed that once infected, individuals are immune from future Zika virus outbreaks and, much like the chicken pox, people only have to go through the illness once in their life.

How is the virus transmitted?

Mosquitoes carry and transmit the Zika virus through their bites and this is the primary way that the virus spreads. However, the virus can be detected in a number of bodily fluids, including blood, urine, saliva, semen and breast milk, which means that transmission from human to human is possible. Studies have found that the virus can definitely be passed during sexual activity, and it is also possible for pregnant women to pass the virus to their baby at any point during pregnancy via amniotic fluid.

Is it life-threatening?

In most cases, the Zika virus only mildly affects those who contract it and is not life-threatening. However, it may increase the risk of developing Guillain-Barré syndrome which can cause paralysis of the entire body, which is why it is important to seek medical care if you believe you have the infection.

Pregnant women who contract the Zika virus are at risk of miscarriage if they are within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. The virus can also cause microcephaly, a condition in which the brain and head do not develop properly and are smaller than usual.

How can it be treated?

There isn’t currently a vaccine available for the Zika virus, but in the majority of cases, symptoms are mild and do not require any specific treatment. Those who are infected should drink plenty of water, rest, and treat pain with the usual medications such as Tylenol.

How can the Zika virus be prevented?

The best way to prevent the Zika virus is to avoid mosquito bites, particularly in areas in which outbreaks of the virus have been known. Try to cover the skin as much as possible when outdoors and use an insect repellent to keep mosquitoes at bay. Pregnant women should avoid traveling to areas in which transmission of the virus is known.

What should I do if I think I have Zika virus?

If you suspect that you have the Zika virus, either because you have symptoms or because you’ve traveled to an area in which transmission is common, you should have blood work done as soon as possible to test for infection. Contact us urgently for an appointment.