10 Zika Facts You Need to Know
May 4, 2016
Here’s what every American needs to know about the Zika virus and minimizing their risk.
As the Zika virus continues to spread through the Americas—and with hundreds of imported cases here in the United States—here’s what every American needs to know about the virus and their risk.
1. Why is there no treatment for Zika?
There are no approved drugs or vaccines for Zika, mainly because scientists long assumed the virus was so benign that it wasn’t worth the resources required to investigate treatment. Zika has not been widely examined, and while some early research noted that the virus could infect brain cells, the connection between Zika and microcephaly—a severe neurological birth defect—is relatively new. Even now, many people who get infected will never know it, and if they start showing signs of infection, such as a rash, red eyes, fever or joint pain, doctors have little to offer other than advice to stay hydrated or take Tylenol as needed.
Vaccine development is under way at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Scientists are tweaking a vaccine that was initially developed for the West Nile virus, and they expect to launch a safety trial for it in September. “The need for a drug is less compelling than the need for a vaccine,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH. “Since Zika is an infection that in most people is usually gone within a few days, it may be tough to have a major impact with a drug as opposed to prevention, with a vaccine.”
2. How can I find out if I have it?
Right now there are no commercial diagnostic tests for Zika, so unless you’re pregnant or are a traveler with symptoms, your doctor may not test you. That’s because of the high volume of blood samples already waiting to be tested, which right now can be done only by state and federal health authorities. Getting results can take weeks, and tests for people who have traveled to Zika-affected areas but do not have symptoms will likely be considered low priority.
An exception is pregnant women who have traveled to one of the 44 countries where Zika has spread—all of them should be tested, according to the CDC. For each test, a doctor will send a sample to a state or federal lab. There’s also a test that looks for antibodies in blood that show whether a person’s immune system has ever fought the virus, but it’s imperfect; it can mistake Zika for similar viruses like dengue and chikungunya.
3. Who is most at risk?
Pregnant women who live in or have traveled to Zika-infested regions are vulnerable to the most serious complications from the virus: birth defects. Zika can also be transmitted through sex, though, which spreads the risk of infection to the bedroom.
- Blue Monster Prep