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What You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

Although health news headlines have been dominated by stories about the spread of the Zika virus – which the World Health Organization has now declared to be an international health emergency – there is a substantial amount of misinformation circulating about the virus. Here is what you need to know about the Zika virus and what steps you need to take to protect yourself and your family.

The Zika Virus is New to the Western Hemisphere

The Zika virus is a variant of the yellow fever, dengue, and the West Nile virus. It has been known to exist in Africa and Asia for about 70 years. However, cases of infection were contained to the eastern hemisphere – until recently there was no substantial number of cases in the western hemisphere until the most current outbreak began in Brazil last year. The virus is transmitted through mosquito bites: A mosquito bites an infected person and takes the virus into its bloodstream. When the mosquito then subsequently bites an uninfected person, the Zika virus travels through the mosquito’s blood stream and salivary glands to be deposited into the uninfected person. In this way, the Zika virus is transmitted from person to person (some suspect that the virus may be transmitted through sexual contact, but it is unclear how often this happens).

Who is at Risk in the United States?

The particular type of mosquito that is most responsible for the spread of the Zika virus in Brazil and Central America has been seen in the United States as far north as Washington, D.C. during periods of extreme heat. Otherwise, it is usually found in Florida, along the Gulf Coast, and in Hawaii. U.S. residents living in these areas – or those who travel to Central and South America – are at an increased risk of being infected with the Zika virus.

Pregnant women who are bitten by infected mosquitos are of special concern to scientists and health professionals, as are those who develop a type of temporary paralysis after being infected with the virus.

What are the Dangers of the Zika Virus?

Symptoms of the Zika virus can appear for up to a month after a person has become infected. Most symptoms of the Zika virus are mild: these include a fever, rash, joint pain, and/or red eyes. Very few individuals need to be hospitalized because of the virus. A few individuals may develop temporary paralysis: these individuals need medical attention to prevent certain complications.

The Zika virus may also be linked in some way to microcephaly, which occurs when an infant is born with an abnormally small head. This is usually accompanied by brain damage in the infant. One of the few links between microcephaly and the Zika virus is that medical professionals in Brazil noticed a surge in the number of cases of microcephaly around the time the Zika virus began spreading. It is unclear what role, if any, the Zika virus played in the surge of cases. Out of caution, however, medical and health professionals caution pregnant women to take action to avoid being bitten and/or not to travel to areas where the Zika virus may exist while they are pregnant.

Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C. is a Pennsylvania and New Jersey personal injury and medical malpractice law firm. Their offices can be reached by calling (215) 567-3500 or by contacting them through their website.

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