(RxWiki News) You may have heard of the Zika virus, which has recently gained notoriety in the news. While the illness can be dangerous in some cases, experts say the risks can be lessened with proper prevention methods.
According to experts at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the mosquito-borne virus has been in the spotlight in recent weeks as it sweeps parts of Latin America, with the possibility of entering the US by way of returning travelers. But it's not exactly a big threat.
"It’s one of those exotic viruses you never think you’d hear about," said Wallace Greene, PHD, the director of the Diagnostic Virology Laboratory at Penn State, in a press release. "I’d worry about those other viruses before I worry about this one. When you get dengue or chikungunya, you’re really hurting."
Zika belongs to the same virus family as yellow and dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile.
However, only 1 in 5 people infected ever experience symptoms — which can include headache, rash, light fever, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Most of the time, Dr. Green said, people aren’t even aware they’ve contracted it.
Zika is usually mild and symptoms typically last only a few days to a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Although Zika rarely kills the people it infects, the virus has been linked to microcephaly — a condition that prevents a baby's brain from growing to full size — making it especially dangerous for pregnant women to contract, according to the press release.
Luckily, microcephaly is not a common condition, according to the CDC. It is estimated to affect less than 12 in every 10,000 babies born in the US.
Babies with microcephaly have smaller than average heads and may have neurological disabilities, including delayed motor function and speech, hyperactivity and seizures, among others, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito, which feeds mainly on humans during both day and night.
People traveling to or living in Latin America, Brazil or other affected regions can protect themselves by keeping screens on windows and doors, and by wearing protective clothing when outdoors. The CDC also recommends sleeping under a mosquito net, staying in places with air-conditioning and wearing insect repellent. Pregnant women should avoid traveling to areas affected with Zika virus, according to the CDC.