The Brazilian Government has asked young women to avoid becoming pregnant until they can determine how to stop the spread of Zika fever. Pregnant women, especially those who are infected in the early stages of pregnancy are at high risk for their offspring developing microcephaly. This small brain in an even smaller skull leads to death or severe permanent neurological deficits. There are now over 3,800 children born with microcephaly in Brazil due to their mother’s infection with Zika Virus.
Zika Virus is in the family of Dengue Fever. It is transmitted by the bite of the Aedes mosquito which also transmits Chikengunya Fever. The incubation period is only 2 – 14 days producing symptoms in only one of five people who have been infected. Symptoms are generally very mild with a very low grade fever, a rash, joint and muscle pains, headache, conjunctivitis and vomiting in some. Treatment is supportive with the disease resolving in about one week.
In adults infected in Brazil there has been an upsurge of post infection Guillan – Barre syndrome which is believed to be due to the disease. While the mode of transmission has been by mosquito in most instances there are two cases in the United States believed to be due to blood to blood transmission and or sexual fluid transmission. Both of these individuals became infected in Brazil.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted the presence of Zika fever in South America, Central America, the Caribbean and now Mexico. Avoiding mosquito bites is the best way to avoid the disease. For women who are infected there is no commercial test to confirm the diagnosis. A polymerase chain reaction RNA test available through the Florida Department of Health and research centers can be obtained one week after the onset of symptoms.
In the United States a protocol has been developed with obstetricians to screen pregnant women who have been infected with frequent ultrasound evaluations of the developing child to determine if the virus has affected the development of the fetus.
The emergence of this virus, which is devastating to developing fetuses, is leading to calls for the development of a vaccine which is “at best” years off. For now the best we can do is avoid endemic areas and be diligent in mosquito control.
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