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How to Recognize Zika Virus Symptoms and Prevent Virus Transmission

Updated on May 9, 2018
Timothy Anderson profile image

Tim Anderson is a freelance writer/researcher with articles published in The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy magazine, TV Guide, and others.

Zika Virus symptoms can often mimic the flu.  The virus continues to slowly spread through the United States after working its way north from Brazil.
Zika Virus symptoms can often mimic the flu. The virus continues to slowly spread through the United States after working its way north from Brazil.

1. What is the Zika Virus?

First discovered in 1947 in Uganda, the Zika virus -- Dengue Chikungunya -- is mostly transmitted by mosquitoes, but also by sexual activity. It was largely confined to tropical Africa and Asia, but in early 2015 an outbreak occurred in Brazil, and since then has been slowly but steadily moving up the continent.

Throughout the coming year, Puerto Rico and Florida are expected to be hit hard. The warmer weather will bring out the billions of winter-dormant mosquitoes and the areas in the southeast that have suffered flooding will be hit hard.

It was May 2015 when Zika virus symptoms began to show up in Recife, Brazil. Doctors began to notice pregnant women who were infected sometimes passed the virus on to their unborn children, resulting in either outright miscarriage, or an abnormal brain development called microcephaly. Thus, a surviving Zika baby was likely to be born with a smaller head and brain. Brazilian doctors are saying for every five pregnant woman who is infected with the virus, at least one -- that's 20 percent of those infected -- will bear children with some form of brain damage. And sadly, by early 2017, more than 50 Brazilian babies died from the virus.

In a normal child or adult with a functioning immune system, the virus typically causes just minor flu-like discomfort -- then being destroyed before it can do any harm. However, pregnant women have shown to have a higher risk of becoming ill and then passing it on to their fetus. Recently the New England Journal of Medicine reported that in all women infected with the Zika virus, almost one-third had scans showing abnormalities in their unborn babies.

Current research has now proven the virus can cause neurological damage in infected adults similar to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which can be a life-threatening neurological disease.

As of March 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports over 5,500 cases of Zika virus have been confirmed in the United States and there have been several deaths. Puerto Rich has over 36,000 confirmed cases. Experts warn than up to one-quarter of ALL Puerto Ricans may eventually contract the virus before year's end. As of the end of April 2017, there are currently 2,100 pregnant women in the United States who are carrying the Zika virus, and over 4,000 infected pregnant women in U.S. territories.

When adding all cases of reported Zika virus, not just pregnant women, the number of infected men and women in the U.S. and its territories jumps to nearly 45,000 people.

The spread of the virus slows dramatically during winter months, then picks up again as temperatures warm. Now is the time to prepare for the coming summer months when mosquitoes are most active.

Short Video Explaining the Zika Virus

2. How Does the Zika Virus Spread?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), here are four common Zika virus symptoms.

Mosquito bites are the most common. Specifically, the Aedes species of mosquito is the carrier, and these mosquitos are found in Africa, Asia, and North, South and Central America. These aggressive mosquitoes will bite both day and night, so proper vigilance must be maintained 24/7. They inject the virus into humans through their salivary glands, and the incubation period is between two and twelve days, although health agencies have varying opinions, and some suggest incubation can take as long as three weeks. However, in normal cases, symptoms begin to show up between three and seven days.

Mother-to-fetus transmission can occur when an expectant mother already infected can pass the virus on to her unborn child. No evidence of viral transmission through breast-feeding has been reported.

Sexual contact can also transmit the virus, much like AIDS. An infected man can pass the virus to a woman. Researcher strongly suggest using condoms and practicing safe sex until more studies can be done. The Zika virus remains active longer in semen than in blood. Researchers have found a male's testes tend to shield the virus from the body's immune system, allowing it to lurk out-of-sight while the virus is being passed on.

Transmission can occur with any type of sexual activity, including oral sex, anal sex, and the sharing of sex toys. In July 2017, Florida health officials confirmed the first sexually transmitted Zika case. The infected person's partner had been in Cuba where the virus was contracted, and upon returning to the U.S. the disease was unknowingly transmitted through sexual activity.

Blood transfusions can also transfer the virus. Numerous cases of blood transfusion cases of Zika have been reported in Brazil, which has now seen over one million people infected.

And while rare, there are a few known cases where health care workers acquired the virus while treating infected patients.

CDC Map of Current U.S. Zika Spread

3. Zika's Infection Symptoms

The CDC says symptoms showing up in Zika-infected humans can range from none to severe.

So far studies are showing that only one-in-five people who contract the virus will actually become physically ill with flu-like symptoms. These normally show up within a few days to a week, but in some cases, it may be up to three weeks.

The most common Zika virus symptoms are muscle pain, red eyes (conjunctivitis), rashes, joint pains, fever or headache. With proper medical attention and rest, most healthy-bodied adults will begin to feel better in three to seven days. Few people are sick enough to require hospitalization, and death from the Zika virus is rare. But healthcare professionals say any pregnant woman who develops any of these symptoms should contact her doctor immediately.

Once a person has been infected and successfully fought the virus, that person will probably be immune to future Zika infections.

Zika Virus and Microcephaly

Zika Virus Map of U.S. Cases.


4. Zika Protection for Your Home, Pt. 2

Shortly after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma tore through Texas and Florida, the Center for Disease Control issued warnings to areas affected to be aware of the potential for serious Zika virus proliferation.

The large bodies of standing water can make local mosquito problems even worse.

To protect yourself and your family in your home against mosquito bites, here are some simple suggestions from the CDC, WHO and other health organizations:

Make sure ALL the screens on your windows are free of holes and tightly fitted. An extra layer of protection would be to run black masking tape along all the borders, sealing the edges completely to keep all bugs out.

If you have a swamp cooler, whether roof- or window-mounted, you might wish to cut a piece of mosquito netting, or flexible thin plastic window screening and cover the opening where the air blows into your home. Or you could cut the screen to size and duct tape it over all the outside swamp cooler vents.

You can be creative here; use your imagination how best to make your swamp cooler safe.

Protect Your Home

Outdoor Mosquito Zappers

5. Zika Protection for Your Home, Pt. 2

Get an outdoor electric bug zapper. Hang it near your back door. If you have a large backyard, you might want to purchase several. You can put them on electric timers if you wish, so they'll come on at sunset and turn off at sunrise. Expect to pay $20 to $50 for each.

Get an indoor electric bug zapper. These are smaller and more decorative than outdoor models. Some are even battery-powered. Place them in appropriate places around your home; in children's bedrooms or near the front and/or back doors.

If you live near water or swampy areas, or if you've had mosquito problems in the past, officials at WHO suggest putting mosquito netting over your beds during hot summer months. You may need to be creative here. If there aren't tall bedposts to drape the netting over, consider thumb nailing to the wall or ceiling. There are many ways to do this. If you have a baby, consider draping the netting over the cradle, crib, or baby carriage when outside, and try to keep the baby's arms and legs covered in a lightweight, airy clothing.

As for using an insect repellent, WHO suggest using those containing DEET, IR3535 or icaridin.

Lastly, replace white bulbs in your porch or backyard lighting with yellow bulbs which don't attract insects.

Yellow Bulbs for Outdoors

6. Bolster Your Immune System

Dr. Jessica Black, N.D. and author of many wellness books, says one good way to protect yourself and your family from the Zika virus is to make sure you're getting plenty of antioxidants. Since there is currently no medical cure for the Zika virus, a person's immune system is the only known defense. If the virus overwhelms an infected individual's immune system, then it is free to grow, strengthen and spread throughout the body.

People with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, HIV-infected adults, or those who already fighting another serious disease (causing stress on the immune system), are more likely to develop the more serious consequences of a Zika infection.

Currently researchers have linked some people infected with the virus to developing Guillain-Barre Syndrome. This is a neurological disease that often starts with weakness or tingling in a person's feet or legs, and then slowly moves upward to the torso and arms and fingers. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, blood pressure problems, bladder and bowel function problems, muscle cramping, weakness in legs, and difficulty moving about. If not cured, this will soon turn into body-wide paralysis, resulting in death.

As with Zika, there is no known cure for Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Hospitalization is required and certain treatments followed that can help your body's immune response, but no guaranteed cures. Some have described the syndrome as being similar to Alzheimer's Disease, only the nervous system degradation occurs in weeks, not years.

Since the human immune system is the only known defense, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and taking appropriate antioxidant supplements will help to keep it in tip-top shape.

The link below will provide you with more of Dr. Black's Zika information.

7. Is There a Zika Treatment or Cure?

According to celebrity medical expert Dr. Oz, since it is a virus, there is no vaccine or pharmaceutical drug to prevent or cure a virus Zika infection. Any cure will be the result of your immune system doing its job.

Oz and other doctors suggest treatment similar to flu instructions: rest as much a possible, do not take aspirin or non-steroidal drugs (NSAIDs), and if you're taking prescription drugs, check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever and pain reduction.

Most infected people showing Zika virus symptoms will begin to feel better after the infection has run its course, usually four to seven days, although in some folks it can be longer.

If symptoms don't improve, or worsen after the first week, see a doctor.

What Have You Learned About Zika Transmission?

view quiz statistics

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2016 Tim Anderson


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