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How to recognize ZIKA virus

The Zika virus has gained attention due to recent outbreaks, particularly in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Oceania, and Africa, as well as some areas of the United States. It is helpful to be able to recognize signs and symptoms of a potential Zika infection, as well as to know what to look for when it comes to complications of the infection. Prompt recognition of complications may help you to get appropriate medical treatment if and when needed.

Identifying Zika

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    Recognize the symptoms. Zika symptoms are often mild and they only last for around a few days to one week. Symptoms of the Zika infection may include:[1]
    • Fever
    • Nausea and/or vomiting
    • Headache
    • Muscle and joint pain
    • Red eyes (conjunctivitis) and/or pain behind the eyes
    • A rash
  2. Image titled Recognize Zika Step 2
    Keep in mind that many people do not show symptoms.[2] One of the major challenges of recognizing a Zika infection is that most infected people have no symptoms at all.
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    Consider timing. The Zika virus is transmitted by a bite from the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the same type of mosquito that can also carry Dengue Fever and Yellow Fever.[3]The time-frame for developing symptoms is usually three to 12 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.[4]
    • If you develop symptoms of Zika, they will occur within this time-frame. However, keep in mind that a lack of symptoms does not mean that you do not have Zika.
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    See a doctor for a blood test. The only sure way to determine if you have Zika is to have a blood test. Zika has symptoms that are similar to dengue fever and chikungunya, so even a doctor cannot diagnose you without performing a blood test.[5]

Recognizing Symptoms of Potential Complications

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    Be aware of potential complications of Zika.[6] The biggest risk of a Zika infection is not the infection, it is the potential complications that can develop as a result of the infection. Although complications only develop in a small minority of people, they can be severe. The two main complications that are suspected to be linked to the Zika virus are:
    • Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which is a neurological condition that can lead to potential paralysis.
    • Microcephaly, which is a birth defect that develops when women who are pregnant become infected with Zika. Infants born with microcephaly have an abnormally small head and may have developmental delays as well. Some infants may even die as a result of this birth defect.
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    Recognize symptoms of GBS.[7] GBS has been linked as a potential complication of the Zika virus, but there is not yet a proven link between the two. Still, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of GBS if you have Zika. GBS is an autoimmune disorder that may occur following a viral infection such as Zika. It affects your nervous system by damaging the nerve coverings. Symptoms include:[8]
    • Numbness in the lower extremities such as the feet, lower legs, and hands
    • Difficulty moving
    • Numbness and/or paralysis that gradually moves upwards
    • Difficult breathing if the paralysis moves to the chest area
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    Watch for signs of microcephaly in newborns.[9] Microcephaly in newborns has also been linked to the Zika infection in pregnant women (who then pass it on to their fetus in the womb). Microcephaly refers to an abnormally small head. This condition can lead to developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, and, in severe cases, it may even lead to death.
    • When your baby is born, the doctors will take routine measurements of head circumference (both at birth, as well as at progressive intervals throughout your baby's growth). It is through abnormally small head circumference measurements that a doctor may diagnose your baby with microcephaly.
    • Microcephaly is defined as a head circumference of less than 42cm at full growth.[10] Doctors can use age-based growth charts to determine whether your baby's head circumference fits into the normal range at each developmental stage.
    • If your baby is diagnosed microcephaly, it may be a sign that you have recently been infected with the Zika virus.
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    Keep in mind that there is no cure or vaccine for Zika.[11] However, GBS is treatable, so see a doctor as soon as possible if you think you have GBS. Microcephaly cannot be treated, but there are support strategies that may help your child reach as many developmental milestones as possible.


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