The phone was ringing off the hook even before Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that a disease linked to the Zika virus in Latin America is posing a world health threat. In fact, WHO’s announcement puts Zika into the same category of threat as the Ebola virus. Let’s inhale and exhale slowly while we provide you with the facts.
The Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.
Zika virus, which is related to dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses, is not new. Since the 1950s, it has occurred within a narrow equatorial belt from Africa to Asia. In 2014, the disease spread across the Pacific Ocean to French Polynesia, and in 2015, to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America, where it is now reaching pandemic levels. In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects, especially small heads, and other poor pregnancy outcomes.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine at present to prevent Zika nor medication to treat it. Until more is known, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that women who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant should consider postponing travel to the areas where the Zika virus transmission is ongoing. These women who travel to one of these areas should talk to their physician or other health care provider first and follow the steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/avoid-bug-bites).
Using an insect repellent is safe and effective when travelling through Zika-affected areas. This is a viable option for pregnant women and nursing mothers, provided the repellent is EPA-registered and used according the directions on the package.
What happens if you travel to a Zika-affected area and you think you may have contracted the virus? See your healthcare provider if you are pregnant and develop a fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes within 2 weeks after traveling to a country where Zika virus cases have been reported. Be sure to tell your health care provider where you traveled.
Because specific areas where the Zika virus transmission is ongoing are difficult to determine and likely to change, the CDC will update this travel notice as information becomes available. Consult http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-information.
The CDC has issued guidance for physicians called the Interim Guidelines for the Evaluation and testing of Infants with Possible Congenital Zika Virus Infection. Further, this office (Total Family Care) is in daily contact with the New York City Department of Health as well as the CDC about the latest developments.
The U.S. and international governments worldwide are pushing forward with a Zika vaccine, as are three pharmaceutical companies. At present, no vaccine is imminent.
As always, pray. Pray for excellent health. Pray an appropriate vaccine is developed in a timely manner. No prayer goes unanswered.
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