As medical malpractice lawyers we find it our duty to speak on current events in our world, especially those related to health. An outbreak of the Zika virus in December 2015 in Brazil has raised concerns about the once isolated virus and its potential outbreak in multiple countries including the United States. Spread primarily by mosquitos, the Zika virus is linked to birth defects when contracted by a pregnant woman, as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, an immune system disorder.
As a resident of the northeastern United States, how worried should you be about the Zika virus? We will try to address you basic questions.
How Does Zika Virus Spread?
The Zika virus is most commonly spread by a mosquito species known as Aedes mosquitos. The virus is most closely related to dengue and yellow fever, but was believed to be isolated prior to 2015.
In addition to being transmitted via mosquito, new reports also show that the virus can be transmitted sexually as well. According to an article in CNN health, the CDC confirmed the first case of sexually transmitted Zika on February 2, 2016. The case involved a man who had recently returned from Venezuela and who infected his partner, who had not traveled.
Zika also can be passed from pregnant mother to fetus, which has been a primary concern of the virus.
Where Is Zika Virus Found?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika virus was present only in areas of Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands prior to 2015. An updated Zika virus map now shows reports of Zika virus in many countries, including Cape Verde, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific Islands, South America, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and multiple states in the United States.
Has it Reached Pennsylvania or New Jersey?
According to Zika Virus Disease in the United States, provided by the CDC, there have been approximately 400 cases of Zika virus reported in the United States. Cases have been reported in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The only states to date where Zika virus has not been reported are Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Alaska. At least one case of Zika has been recorded in all other states.
It is important to note that while cases of Zika have been reported in the United States, nearly all cases involve people who have contracted the virus due to traveling to a country where Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitos. There is no evidence to suggest that mosquitos in the U.S. currently carry the Zika virus.
What Are the Biggest Concerns About Zika?
There are two major risks of contracting Zika: Guillain-Barre syndrome, and microcephaly and other birth defects.
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disorder that has been associated with Zika. The Mayo Clinic states that the immune system of a person with Guillain-Barre syndrome attacks the nervous system, resulting in weakness and tingling of the limbs. The sensations can abruptly result in complete paralysis of the whole body. There is no cure.
Microcephaly is the other major health complication that is associated with Zika virus. It can occur when a pregnant woman contracts the virus. To be sure, the rates of microcephaly – a birth defect where a baby is born with an abnormally small brain – have skyrocketed in Brazil, where the virus first erupted. The CDC recently concluded that Zika causes microcephaly and other “severe fetal brain defects” (read the full report on the CDC’s website).
How to Reduce Your Risk of Contracting the Virus?
While Zika appears to be an emerging threat, and is especially concerning to pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant, the good news is that there are steps that you can take to reduce your risk of contracting the virus. While there is no Zika virus vaccine, you can reduce your chances of contracting Zika by:
- Not traveling to countries where Zika virus has been reported;
- Protecting against mosquito bites by wearing long sleeves and pants, and using mosquito repellant;
- Eliminating standing water on your own property;
- Not having sexual intercourse with an individual who has traveled to a country where Zika virus has been reported and who shows any of the symptoms of Zika.
What to Do if You Contract Zika
Zika virus symptoms include (as reported by the CDC):
- Joint pain;
- Muscle pain; and
While the specific incubation period is not known, it is believed to be between a few days and one week. Some people who have contracted Zika show no symptoms or exhibit symptoms that are very mild.
There is no medicine to treat Zika once a person has become infected. However, symptoms usually do not last for long, and once a person has contracted the virus they are likely to be protected from future infections. The side effects of Zika are not always as severe as those reported above.
If you have any of the symptoms of Zika, it is recommended that you consult with your healthcare professional as soon as possible to obtain a correct diagnosis. Rest and hydration are recommended, as well as certain medicines to reduce fever and pain. If you have Zika, do not have sex with anyone, and steps to avoid mosquito bites (which could then pass the virus on to another person).
Philadelphia Attorneys With a Focus On Community
At The Colleran Firm, our Philadelphia and New Jersey personal injury attorneys want to make sure that you have as much information as possible to protect yourself against Zika virus, especially if you are a pregnant woman. While the risk of contracting the virus while living in the U.S. (and not traveling to other countries) is low, it is still important that you remain mindful and do what you can to prevent mosquito bites. If you have questions about filing a personal injury suit that we can assist you with, contact us at your earliest convenience by calling our offices or using our online form.