The Zika virus has been in the news quite a bit this year. Discovered in 1947, the disease didn’t really begin to spread until about 2006, and became a widespread threat only last year. Transmitted by certain types of mosquitos, the World Health Organization declared it a global health emergency. However, in late November they removed that classification, as they, and other organizations, make headway in fighting the disease. Do you need to be worried? What do you need to know to keep yourself safe from it? Here’s the latest news on what’s going on with Zika.
The Danger Dissipates
Over the summer, many people were especially worried about the spread of Zika, because Brazil, one of the areas where it’s currently most prevalent, was hosting the Summer Olympics. With tourists and athletes from virtually every country gathering there, the virus could easily be carried all over the planet. Fortunately, it appears no new cases were reported during that time.
Meanwhile, areas in Miami where Zika outbreaks had been detected are slowly being made safe. Wynwood, a Miami neighborhood the World Health Organization had issued warnings about visiting, particularly for pregnant women, is now virus-free. Miami-Dade County as a whole is being called a “cautionary area,” but according to the CDC the disease is no longer active there.
One of the biggest dangers of the virus has been its effects on pregnant women and their unborn children. Pregnant women with Zika are still being found to pass the disease on, causing birth defects in certain cases. However, if the infection occurs in the third trimester, studies show the chances of passing it on are much lower. However, infants who have been exposed are still being examined to determine if they develop any Zika-related problems within the first year of their life.
Most importantly, human testing began last month on a vaccine to prevent Zika. Experiments have been conducted since August, and the treatment has been shown to be effective on monkeys. Researchers have high hopes this could be the key to stopping the spread of the virus for good.
How to Protect Yourself from the Zika Virus
If you live in an area where Zika is prevalent, or are afraid you may be exposed to the virus, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself. The most common method of transmission is through certain types of mosquitos. Therefore, be sure to wear insect repellant on any exposed skin, as well as on your clothing. Follow the instructions on the bottle exactly, and wear long sleeves and long pants to minimize exposed areas.
The virus can also be transmitted sexually. Always practice safe sex and use condoms to reduce the risk of contracting the disease.
Finally, in certain rare instances, Zika has been transmitted through blood transfusions. No instances of this have occurred in the United States, and the American Red Cross and other organizations are being very careful to screen all donated blood for the virus before giving it to anyone. If you’ve been to an area, either in the U.S. or elsewhere, where Zika is prevalent, get yourself tested before donating blood or having unprotected sex with anyone.
Thanks to modern medicine and the vigilance of groups such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, the Zika threat appears to be diminishing. However, the danger’s not quite over yet. Wherever you find yourself, it’s always good to take precautions, so as not to contract the disease, and not to pass it on to anyone else. With any luck, by this time next year, it will all be a distant memory.