As the Zika virus continues to spread through the Americas, U.S. Health officials said on Thursday that it is taking the 31 cases that have been reported in 11 states and the District of Columbia serious. While none of the infected people have been known to spread the virus so far, the CDC is now requiring all states to report any travelers who show sings of the virus.
In response to the spread of the Zika virus, the CDC issued a travel alert warning especially pregnant women not to travel to about two dozen Latin American or Caribbean countries. As reported by The New York Times on January 28, the World Health Organization has warned that the Zika virus is ‘spreading explosively’ in the Americas and that as many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year.
While the CDC is collaborating with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to prevent a spread of the Zika virus in the United States, U.S. Health officials are working hard on developing a vaccine. However, health officials warn that it could take years before an effective vaccine has been developed.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know, so we have to be very careful about making any absolute predictions,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Zika cases found in the United States so far appeared sporadically after travelers went abroad and then returned home.
According to the CDC, the Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. While the virus can be passed on from a pregnant mother to her fetus or her newborn, there are no reports of passing the virus on via breastfeeding. However, “there has been one report of possible spread of the virus through blood transfusion and one report of possible spread of the virus through sexual contact.”
Symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Additional symptoms include muscle pain and headache.
From the time someone has been bitten until the time symptoms might appear, is expected to be a few days to about a week. Once infected, a person might experience discomfort lasting for several days.
Since there is no vaccine or medication available for the Zika virus, health officials recommend getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, or taking a fever or pain medication. However, the CDC points out that since the Zika virus is similar to other viruses, it is recommended NOT to take aspirin or other NSAIDs:
“Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen. Aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of hemorrhage (bleeding). If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), who forecasts 4 million Zika cases by the end of the year, the first case of the virus was reported in May 2015 in Brazil. Since then, the virus has spread to 22 other countries and territories in the region. Unlike the outbreak of some other viruses, the Zika virus outbreak has prompted an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee because the virus “has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a poorly understood condition in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, sometimes resulting in paralysis.”