What is Zika?
Zika is a virus transmitted primarily by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which also carry dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Symptoms are generally mild and many people do not even know they have contracted the virus. However, the virus can be dangerous for pregnant women. Some babies born to women infected by the Zika virus have had birth defects, primarily microcephaly, characterized by a small head and underdeveloped brain.
Zika began a rapid spread through South and Central America and the Caribbean last year and is now in more than 62 countries and territories. Cayman’s public health officials confirmed local cases of Zika this week. The World Health Organization declared a public health emergency in February as the virus continued to spread. In Brazil, one of the hardest hit countries, there has been an increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder that could lead to paralysis and death, according to the WHO.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika was discovered in 1947 and is named for the Zika Forest in Uganda. There have been several outbreaks of Zika since then in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
According to Cayman’s Mosquito Research and Control Unit, the Aedes aegypti “is a very domesticated mosquito. It is found associated with human habitation, breeding in water drums, guttering, buckets and discarded trash. It can be controlled by house and business owners by simply clearing up any water holding containers or making sure that water is not allowed to stand for more than a couple of days in e.g. bird baths, pet water bowls, plant pots, etc.”
The black-and-white-striped Aedes aegypti mosquito bites mainly during the day and late afternoon.
Don’t get bit
The best way to avoid Zika is not to get bit by the mosquitoes. The virus can also be contracted through sexual transmission. The WHO recommends that people in infected areas use condoms or abstain from sex, especially during pregnancy.
Public health officials recommend:
- Using bug spray containing DEET, IR3535 or icaridin, except for babies under two months
- Wearing clothes that cover arms and legs
- Using window and door screens
- Using mosquito netting to cover babies under two months when they are in carriers and strollers
According to the CDC, many people who contract Zika show no symptoms or very mild symptoms. The symptoms may last for two to seven days and include mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and headache.