As with many Olympiads of years’ past, the conversation leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has been laced with controversy. But in this case of this year’s global athletic event, health concerns have dominated the headlines, as news of the Zika virus spread across the world.
This led to public calls for athletes, in addition to attendees, to sit out the summer games this year, altogether. Their dream of Olympic glory was simply not worth the potential cost of their health. But with the end of the Olympics in Brazil, reports are becoming more positive, echoing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s July declaration that the Rio Olympics were “unlikely to spread” or accelerate the spread of the Zika virus.
After all, it is currently winter in Rio, and mosquitoes carrying the virus are less likely to be active this time of year.
Unfortunately, however, it has been reported that the Zika virus has made its way to America, with new cases reported in Florida and attributed to local mosquitoes. In light of this news, here is what you need to know about Zika to keep yourself safe at home or if you plan to travel abroad to impacted areas.
Zika Risk Factors and Symptoms
Following the original outbreak that began in northeast Brazil, Zika has since been linked to pediatric brain damage and microcephaly (when an infant is born with a smaller head). Adults are also at risk, as Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder where a body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system, and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which is characterized by short, intense swelling in the spinal cord and brain, have been connected to the Zika virus.
Currently, there are two ways an individual can contract the Zika virus:
- Primarily through bites of an infected Aedes mosquito; and
- Unprotected sexual contact with someone who is infected.
According to the CDC, there is very low risk of transmission associated with blood transfusions, but that is subject to change, were the virus to spread further and become more commonplace.
Often many individuals do not present symptoms of the Zika virus, but some include fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes, as well as muscle pain and headache. These symptoms can last up to a week, and the virus itself is not fatal. But due to other healthcare issues that may evolve as a result of contracting the virus, you should contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing these symptoms and have recently traveled to an impacted area. Your diagnosis can be confirmed with a blood or urine test.
Seeking Treatment for Zika
If you or someone you know has a positive Zika virus diagnosis, unfortunately, there is no current vaccine or medicine that treats it - you can only treat the symptoms. Keep hydrated with fluids, rest, and use pain or fever reducers like acetaminophen (Tylenol®).
You should not, however, take aspirin or other NSAIDS. If you are currently taking any other medication, consult your doctor before adding any additional medication to your regimen for treatment.
Ultimately, the Best Strategy for Zika Is Prevention
Since there is currently no treatment available for Zika, the best course for you and your loved ones is prevention - especially if you are currently (or plan on becoming) pregnant.
If you are at high-risk, do not travel to areas with reports of Zika. In addition to preventing mosquito bites with EPA-registered insect repellents and adequate coverage with clothing, you should use condoms or other barrier methods with sexual partners - especially those who have also recently traveled. Also, if you are looking to grow your family, it is recommended that you wait eight weeks before trying, if you have traveled to an area impacted or under warning of the Zika virus.
Finally, don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your healthcare provider. They can discuss your personal circumstances, as well as any questions or concerns you may have about the Zika virus.