Zika virus symptoms can be something of a mystery, with the disease imitating a number of other less serious diseases and sometimes masking the very dangerous effects it can have on pregnant women.
An outbreak of the disease in Brazil and other Latin American countries has now spread to the United States, with fears that it could become more widespread. But while the disease has very serious side effects for pregnant women, the onset of the disease itself can often be very mild, and the Zika virus symptoms sometimes appear no different than a common cold or a slight case of the flu.
That has made its diagnosis difficult, prompting health officials to spread the word about its symptoms in efforts to raise awareness.
The Zika virus was first found in Uganda’s Zika Forest and was detected in humans in the early 1950s. In the decades that followed, there were reported outbreaks in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that there were likely other undocumented outbreaks.
The Zika virus itself is treated through rest and drinking plenty of fluids, with those infected rarely needing to be hospitalized. Deaths from the disease are even rarer, the CDC noted, but the biggest danger comes from the effects it can have on pregnant women.
“Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects. Other problems have been detected among fetuses and infants infected with Zika virus before birth, such as defects of the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth. There have also been increased reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an uncommon sickness of the nervous system, in areas affected by Zika.”
The disease has made the jump to the United States, with the CDC publishing a warning for people who traveled to the Miami, Florida, neighborhood of Wynwood. The Florida Department of Health had identified the neighborhood as one where the Zika virus had spread, warning people who live there or visited anytime after June 15 to be on the lookout for Zika virus symptoms.
Those Zika virus symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, the CDC noted. There can also be muscle pain or headache, though the CDC added that some people have no symptoms at all. The symptoms can last for several days or a week and usually clear up through rest and proper hydration.
The CDC warned that pregnant women should not travel to the Miami neighborhood affected by Zika and that pregnant women there should take steps to prevent mosquito bites and should practice safe sex. It advised anyone exhibiting symptoms of the Zika virus to be tested immediately.
To health officials, the potential spread of the Zika virus in Miami showed that their efforts at preventing the spread of the disease had fallen short.
“Because mosquito control efforts in this specific community… don’t appear to be working as well as we as we would have hoped, and because we have seen more Zika cases over a longer time frame, we advise pregnant women to avoid travel to this area and pregnant women who live or work in this area to make every effort to avoid mosquito bites,” CDC director Tom Frieden said on Monday (via Vox).
There are also fears of the Zika virus at the Rio Olympics, which are set to kick off later this week. Brazil is one of the areas hit hardest by the outbreak of the virus, and many athletes have opted to stay home rather than risk infection.
A full list of Zika symptoms as well as how to treat the disease can be found here.
[Photo by Andre Penner/AP Images]