What is Zika?
Zika is an infection that causes mild symptoms, in some cases, no symptoms in the person infected.
There has been a lot of attention paid to the impact of Zika. This is less to do with the victims of the disease than it is the impact on babies who are born whilst the mother or father is infected. It has been shown to cause birth defects in babies, including small head syndrome. This can result in extensive disabilities for the child throughout their life. It is for this impact on babies that has caused the extent of the emergency in the world health community.
To begin with, the disease was contained in Brazil, which came to the world’s attention due to the world cup football and the Olympics. However, there have since been cases in Florida and now there is concern that there are cases in Singapore. The Florida Department of Health has identified one area in a neighborhood of Miami where Zika is being spread. The international dimension of the infection has now gained the attention of the World Health Organisation.
As yet, there is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
How does Zika spread?
Zika is mostly spread by an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters. They also bite at night. They are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses. The mosquitoes lay eggs in and near standing water, things such as buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots and vases. As with most mosquitoes, they are prevalent in tropical or sub-tropical climate, near bodies of still water. Any body of water can attract mosquitoes, including pools that collect during rainstorms. This means that it is very difficult to track or prevent the spread of the mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person who is already infected. These mosquitoes then spread the disease to other people through bites.
Zika is then passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. The infection during pregnancy can cause birth defects, which can be debilitating through life. The one that has reached the news is microcephaly, which is known as small head syndrome. This is the major cause of concern to the world community. Although transmitting the disease through breastfeeding is doubtful, medics still advise that women should not breastfeed if they suspect they are infected.
Zika can also be passed during sexual intercourse. Infected people can pass the disease this way before any symptoms have emerged. This means if a man has been infected he can infect his partner during sex, which in turn can be passed to a fetus should she become pregnant. Zika can remain in semen longer than in other body fluids, including vaginal fluids, urine and blood. It is believed that the condition could also be passed by blood transfusion, though this has not been confirmed.
How would you know if you have Zika?
Most people with Zika won’t have symptoms or will have mild symptoms that mimic the common cold or flu symptoms. This includes fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, and headache. The symptoms won’t last for long, no more than a week. Hardly any victims to the disease have been sick enough to go to the hospital and it is rare that the person will die from the disease. Once you have been infected with Zika once, your body will be immune from future infections.
The test for Zika is done through a blood or urine test. This will give the specific diagnosis, though it is unlikely that you will need treatment. The disease will pass by itself.
The Zika infection is so worrying because of the birth defects caused to babies when they are in the womb. Microcephaly and other fetal brain defects, as well as other defects, include blindness, hearing loss and impaired growth. There are also reports of cases of a rare nervous system condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
What impact will the disease have on me long term?
The impact on you as an individual will be limited. Once the infection passes, you will be immune from future infection. In this way, Zika is no more a problem than the common cold. However, the effect on your future offspring, if the disease is passed through sex to the mother and then to the fetus.
This is a condition that impacts on the size of the head and by extension the brain. This will cause extensive disability in like. This may be because the brain stopped developing or because the brain started to develop normally but then became damaged over time when there was no space for it to grow. There are severe problems linked to the condition, including seizures, speech and language delay, intellectual retardation, problems with movement and balance, feeding problems, hearing loss and blindness.
These problems can range from mild through to severe, depending on the extent of the condition. The smaller the head, the more severe the disabilities that the baby will face. The condition can be life-threatening, as swallowing is restricted. The baby will need regular check-ups through the development stages of childhood.
This is a sickness of the nervous system, where the immune system can damage the person’s own nerve cells, causing muscle weakness, and sometimes paralysis. There are several cases of GBS in the area where there have been Zika outbreaks. The link between Zika and GBS has not been confirmed but the CDC and WHO are still investigating the rise in cases and the possible connection with the disease.
The symptoms of GBS include weakness in the arms and legs and in severe cases it can impact on breathing. Therefore, it is important to seek medical advice. Very few people die from GBS but it can cause permanent damage.
What should I do if I suspect I have Zika?
There is no vaccine or medication for Zika. It is still important to seek medical advice, as the course of the disease needs to be tracked and the doctors may be able to offer some relief from the symptoms. You should also seek advice about how to manage the risk to a possible fetus. It is likely that you will be advised to not have unprotected sex for a duration of six months, in order to ensure that the infection has no chance of spreading to a baby. Women who are pregnant should definitely seek medical advice and the doctor will probably seek to monitor the pregnancy closely.
How can I avoid getting Zika?
The best route to being safe from Zika is to prevent infection in the first place. The advice for avoiding Zika is similar to the advice given for avoiding malaria. Although there is no vaccine or medication to help, simple actions like wearing long sleeve tops and pants, along with wearing insect repellent and keeping windows closed at night, are all sound preventative measures. It is also a good idea to stay in air conditioned houses and to provide netting around beds.
The CDC advise using EPA-registered insect repellents, with one of the following ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-methane-diol. These are safe to use on pregnant women but should not be used on children below 2 months. Check the bottle, as some of these ingredients, are not to be used children under 3 years old.
To prevent transmission by sexual contact, you should simply wear a condom to prevent the passing of bodily fluid.
You should also take travel advisory seriously. If you are pregnant in particular, you should avoid travel to infected areas. If you do travel, you can identify the relevant mosquito, if you can get close enough, by the distinctive black and white stripes on its body. If you can see the mosquito this clearly, there is a strong argument for walking away very quickly!
Are there any food, vitamins or supplements that would help?
The best way of protecting yourself against Zika is through food and supplement that would help the body fight off viral infections. The reason most people who are bitten and infected do not get sick is because the body is more than capable of handling the threat posed. Therefore, a strong immune system is the best means of fighting the Zika virus. Therefore, nutrition plays a pivotal role in providing the body with the resources needed. Here are some suggestions to help strengthen your immune system:
Vitamin A: this helps to promote healthy hair and skin. It is considered an important aid to the immune system. IT also helps to keep the other parts of the body healthy, including the stomach, intestines, and respiratory system. Adequate Vitamin A in pregnant women because it has a significant impact on the development of the fetus immune system. You can get Vitamin A, from sources such as dark leafy vegetables, bell peppers, and carrots.
Vitamin C: this is an important vitamin, as it boosts the immune system by encouraging the production of antibodies. This is the body’s natural defense against attack from disease. When the virus enters the body, the antibodies are released to fight off the attack. Good sources of Vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, dark leafy vegetables, bell peppers and many others.
Vitamin E: this is an important vitamin for fighting the impact of free radicals on immune systems. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, so it literally washes the free radicals from the system. Foods rich in Vitamin include shellfish, avocados, nuts and seeds.
If we look to supplements for help with Zika, then we would need to choose a supplement that can raise the antibodies in the blood. If we increase the antibodies, then we naturally strengthen our immune system. There are many examples that can help. A few include Olive Leaf Extract, Astragalus, Turmeric, Acai Berries – all of this help to strengthen our immunity. Therefore, we would be unlikely to feel the impact of Zika at all.
Pure Science Supplements may also help by offering support as an antioxidant. Antioxidants rid the body of free radicals, which attack the immune system. Therefore, you could reach for: Selenium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E. All of these can boost your natural defenses against the effects of the disease.
Should I be worried about Zika?
In short, not really. The only reason to be worried is if you are having a baby or you might want to have a baby soon after infection. The effect on the people infected is minimal. There may be some symptoms that mimic a cold or at worst flu. This is unlikely to be serious enough to warrant hospitalization and it is certainly unlikely to ever result in death.
There are some concerns about a related spike in cases of GBS. This can cause a rapid decline in muscle strength, which can impact on breathing. However, the CDC and the WHO have yet to make a confirmed link between the two conditions.
The real reason to be concerned is if you are pregnant, as the impact of the foetus is devastating. The lifelong impact of the birth defects is distressing. Therefore, avoiding travel to infected areas or if you live in areas with the mosquito, ridding the areas of any bodies of still water. Wearing clothes that cover your limbs and using insect repellent are all sensible precautions. Remember to use protection during sexual intercourse, if an infection is suspected. With such sensible precautions, you may never need to worry about Zika.
If you want to help your body fight the disease, then it is possible to eat food and take supplements that will boost your natural defenses against viral infection. Vitamin A and C will help strengthen your antibodies, whilst Vitamin E will rid your body of free radicals, which can attack your immune system. You can eat healthy foods such as citrus fruits, dark leafy vegetables, fish, nuts, seed, and avocados. All of these foods will naturally help your body to take on Zika, meaning you may never know you have been infected.