Zika is a viral infection that is mainly spread through mosquitoes in the Aedes family, which are active during the day as well as the night. It can also be spread through sexual intercourse and blood transfusions. Although it originated in Africa, is has spread to South and Central America as well as the Caribbean. There are now locally-transmitted cases reported in Southern Florida. Symptoms are usually mild and last for several days to a week. They include: fever, headache, rash, joint pain, red eyes, and muscle pain. Not all people who are infected will have symptoms, and those who do may only have one or two of them.
The Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly, which is a serious birth defect; affected children can experience developmental delay and lifelong health problems such as seizures, difficulty swallowing, hearing loss, and vision problems. The virus causes these problems by targeting important early cells in the brain—often referred to as human neural progenitor cells—before a child is even born, causing these cells to either die or develop abnormally. There is currently no cure for Zika, and no way to prevent it from infecting an unborn child.
At this point, the best course of action is prevention. The CDC has recommended that pregnant women not travel to an area with active Zika transmission, and take measures to prevent mosquito bites if a trip cannot be avoided. Since sexual transmission is possible, women should use condoms or abstain from intercourse with partners who have been to an area with active Zika transmission. Current guidelines from the CDC state that these precautions should be taken for the duration of a pregnancy.
Any woman who is concerned that she may have been exposed should speak to her doctors to see if they meet criteria for testing. The type of sample and specific test to be ordered depends on the timing of the exposure.
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