Zika -- to vacation or not to vacation?

Associated Press PhotoIn this Jan. 27 file photo, an Aedes aegypti mosquito known to carry the Zika virus, is photographed through a microscope at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil.

Now that fall is rapidly approaching, are you thinking about going somewhere warm this winter? I happened to mention to a friend of ours that Drew and I are thinking of just such a winter “getaway.” Her immediate, quite alarmed response was; “what about Zika?”

In all honesty, and with a bit of embarrassment, I admit that I really haven’t given much thought to the virus since concerns were raised about our athletes attending the Olympics in Rio where Zika is quite prevalent.

So, I thought that I should it check out. I went to the Center for Disease Control’s official website and here is what I learned.

Zika is caused by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters. They can also bite at night.

Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects.

There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.

The virus can be transmitted through:

• Mosquito bites

• From a pregnant woman to her fetus

• Sex

• Blood transfusion (very likely but not confirmed)

Many people infected with the Zika virus won’t have symptoms at all or will only have mild symptoms. The most common symptoms of Zika are:

• Fever

• Rash

• Joint pain

• Conjunctivitis (red eyes)

• Muscle pain

• Headache

Symptoms can last for several days to a week. People usually don’t get sick enough to even go to the hospital. Once a person has been infected with Zika, they are likely to be protected from future infections.

A Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects. Other problems have been detected among fetuses and infants infected with the Zika virus before birth such as defects of the eyes, hearing deficits and impaired growth.

Since I am long passed needing to worry about pregnancy, any serious risks resulting from contracting the virus seemed nonexistent. But, then I read a bit further. There have been increased reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in areas affected by Zika.

GBS is an uncommon sickness of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.

Several countries that have experienced Zika outbreaks recently have reported increases in people who have GBS. The CDC admits that it cannot at this time definitively state that there is a correlation between the virus and GBS but reports indicate that it is a concern needing further research.

Check out the CDC website for information on locations reporting outbreaks of Zika.

So, there you have it. I would never presume to tell you to travel or not to travel to warm climates this winter. I just wanted you to know a bit more about Zika before you make the decision.

Wendy J. Levenfeld is a published novelist, playwright and columnist. Comments can be addressed to wendylevenfeld@gmail.com.

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