The Healthy Person’s Guide to Dodging Zika

The virus can stay in a person's bloodstream for a week — and other vital facts you must know

by Manny Alvarez, MD | Updated 08 Aug 2017 at 10:38 AM

A year ago, the Zika virus was making big news with a few concerning cases in Florida and Texas. Health officials knew the dangers of this virus and acted quickly, helping to contain the problem while pushing for more research.

While you’re not hearing much about Zika in the news this year, you should still take precautions and educate yourself.

Here's what you need to know.

New efforts to combat Zika. Since the outbreak of Zika in the U.S., health professionals have been researching and testing new ways to combat the virus. First of all, the NIH is exploring several different vaccines from a variety of sources. In fact, one vaccine developed by scientists from the NIAIDS Vaccine Research Center has already reached Phase 2 clinical trials this year. Once one of these vaccines is approved for the market, it should help protect travelers from getting the infection while abroad.

Meanwhile, researchers are exploring a new approach to combating the virus. An active trial is already underway in California, launched by Google's parent company, called Verily. Using robotic technology, the company has actually bred scores of sterile male mosquitoes to help control the regular mosquito population.

Researchers chose male only since these mosquitoes don't actually bite humans. Once these mosquitoes breed with their non-sterile counterparts, the eggs will also be sterile, dwindling the mosquito population. For now, the trials are occurring in the monitored Fresno area of California.

What happens if you're infected? Those who do get the Zika virus may not even know that they have it.

How can they not know? In many cases, Zika causes mild flu-like symptoms and sometimes shows no symptoms at all. Common symptoms include a fever, rash, headache, joint or muscle pain, and red eyes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus can stay in an infected person's bloodstream for about one week, leaving ample opportunity for spread through sex or mosquitoes. For most healthy adults, the body merely fights off the infection, developing antibodies against Zika in the future.

The main danger with Zika lies in pregnant women and their unborn infants. Unlike other illnesses, an expectant mother can unknowingly pass on the infection to her baby, putting the child at risk for certain birth defects.

Related: Why You Must Stay Cautious About Zika This Summer

In addition, the CDC has confirmed that the Zika virus is one of the contributing factors to microcephaly in children. So far, it appears that the greatest risk happens in the first trimester of the pregnancy. For this reason, health experts are actively researching ways to prevent the Zika virus from spreading.

Is Zika still active? Although much of the attention surrounding Zika has diminished, the virus does still have the potential to spread. Zika spreads through three main routes: a bite from an infected mosquito, sexual transmission, or transmission to an unborn baby through an infected mother.

Most cases in the U.S. have occurred due to travelers going into infected countries, and state officials have been able to localize the few outbreaks that have occurred. However, you do still see active cases of Zika in America even now.

Related: Zika Virus Can Live in Your Eyes

Last Tuesday, Florida officials reported the state's first case of sexually transmitted Zika for 2017, according to CBS News. To combat further spreading, health officials are taking the necessary steps to control mosquitoes in this area. Similarly, Texas reported a case that likely occurred due to a mosquito bite just recently.

Taking precautions. To prevent the spread of the Zika virus, you can do your part in taking precautions against infection.

1.) Use insect repellent. Here, you should go a step further and make sure that the repellent does work against mosquitoes. To be safe, use an EPA-registered repellent that has DEET in its formula.

If you are pregnant, you absolutely should steer clear of countries where Zika is active.

2.) Travel safely. In general, you should avoid areas where Zika is prevalent. However, if you do travel or live in an affected area, cover up as much as possible when going outdoors, wearing light, breathable clothing. If you are pregnant, you absolutely should steer clear of countries where Zika is active.

3.) Clean up the yard. To prevent attracting mosquitoes, clean up any areas around your home with standing water or high moisture. Remove unused pots or other water collectors and get rid of trash.

4.) Practice safe sex. If you live close to a high-risk area or know of any recent local cases, you should use protection, such as a condom, during intercourse. The Zika virus is known to transmit through unprotected sex.

Although the Zika virus has not seen the same attention it did last year, you should still educate and protect yourself against it. Due to high concerns for Zika complications, especially for unborn babies, researchers are actively seeking ways to combat the virus.

You can help to keep the virus at bay in the United States by avoiding high-risk areas whenever possible and by taking precautions when a risk does exist.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. His website is AskDrManny.com.

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