It has been the topic of news for several months now and as of late, has turned into a bigger epidemic. The Zika virus, spread by bites of infected mosquitoes in the Aedeus genus, is in the same family as West Nile, yellow fever and tick-borne encephalitic viruses. I just returned from a cruise recently to the Caribbean, where several of the countries are affected. The entire ship’s crew was staffed with bottles of hand sanitizer, and the cruise line took direct steps to communicate with passengers as part of our embarkation process, as well as when we exited the ship for ports of call in Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico to make sure we were covered in bug repellant.
Individuals most at risk are pregnant women, as the Zika virus is linked to birth defects. Fetuses and newborns are of most concern, particularly those in the first trimester. While one in five people infected with the virus become ill, there are those who experience little to no symptoms and may be completely unaware that they are infected.
Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, headache and red eyes or conjunctivitis. Per Dr. Robert Amler, vice-president for government affairs, dean and professor of public health, and professor of environmental health science at New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York, “these symptoms are usually mild and last only a few days or up to one week.” Symptoms typically occur roughly two to seven days after the mosquito bite, according to the World Health Organization.
In recent weeks, the Zika virus has been linked to older individuals. What are YOUR risks? Researchers have been studying a link between the virus and developing Guillain-Barre syndrome. This post-infection complication causes the body’s immune system to attack part of the nervous system shortly after exposure to the virus. It causes gradual weakness in the legs, arms and upper body, and in some cases, paralysis. In some tracked cases, there was also significant hearing loss, as well as dizziness, although, again, those symptoms were temporary.
At the current moment, there is not a quick test for Zika, nor a vaccine. Thus, it is most important for those traveling to Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, South America or any third world country to be extra cautious and be sure to travel with some form of cover, including Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula Picardin or OFF! Deepwoods VIII, which contains 25 percent deet. Such products keep mosquitoes from biting for about eight hours. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus contains 30 percent lemon eucalyptus, and lasts for roughly seven hours. These particular products were recommended by Consumer Reports.