You’ve heard of the Zika virus since its outbreak in Brazil back in 2015. It hasn’t stopped you from heading to Rio de Janeiro to cheer on your favorite athletes. Or maybe you’ve stayed behind this time around and let your partner take off while you catch up on your never-ending list of projects. So how worried should you be about the Rio Olympics Zika virus threat? What preventive measures should you take to avoid contracting the virus – especially if you or your loved one are currently in Brazil?
What Is Zika?
The Zika virus is mostly transmitted through the bite of mosquitoes classified in the Aedes aegypti species. Since these mosquitoes breed in small pools of water and live around urban areas, they thrive alongside humans and their homes, increasing the risk of exposure. To make matters worse, the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are most active during daylight hours and bite more frequently in mornings and afternoons. The Zika virus can also be passed through blood transfusions and unprotected sexual intercourse, but transmission in these cases is less well understood.
The virus belongs to the Flaviviridae family and is particularly similar to dengue fever. This makes Zika harder to diagnose in geographical areas where dengue is prevalent. Typical Zika virus symptoms include:
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Mild fever
- Abdominal pain
A large majority of individuals diagnosed with Zika never realize they have been infected and may even be immune to future infections.
While At the Games
Muscles are no match for these disease-carrying mosquitoes, so both the sculpted Olympians and the spectators are at risk. Moreover, there is no cure for Zika, so prevention is key for everyone’s safety.
The good news is: the 2016 Summer Olympics are taking place during winter in Brazil, and lower temperatures are known to decrease the Aedes mosquitoes’ breeding rate. Keep in mind that all individuals traveling to Rio de Janeiro (or any other high-risk exposure regions) are advised to:
- Visit a medical clinic prior to departure
- Spray on DEET mosquito repellent while outdoors
- Wear long sleeves and pants to reduce your chances of being bitten
- Wear light-colored clothing
- Abstain from any sexual activities during your trip and for four weeks afterward
- Avoid accommodations that have no window screens or that do not have air conditioning
- Stay away from poverty-stricken areas with no running water and poor sanitation conditions
- Visit a medical clinic upon your return and get tested for Zika, especially if you notice Zika virus symptoms
Getting Diagnosed with Zika
Only well-trained clinicians can diagnose you with Zika. This will include:
- An assessment of your recent travel history
- An evaluation of your symptoms
- A blood or urine test
- Other blood tests that can help detect Zika or similar types of viruses
There is still a lot to learn about Zika, especially regarding its transmission through sexual contact. For instance, blood, urine or semen tests in men are not recommended to determine the likelihood of passing the Zika virus through sex. Remember to practice safe sex until more is known about transmission.
If you’ve been diagnosed with Zika, you’ll need to visit a medical clinic to get a treatment plan tailored to your specific symptoms. Treating the disease usually involves:
- Minimizing all symptoms
- Getting plenty of rest
- Drinking fluids to avoid dehydration
- Reducing fever or pain with acetaminophen or paracetamol
- Avoiding aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs until dengue fever is ruled out
Pregnancy and Zika
While many individuals diagnosed with Zika will fully recover within a week and may never show any Zika virus symptoms, this is unfortunately not the case for pregnant women.
The Zika virus can cause serious brain damage in unborn children, including microcephaly – a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. This can lead to serious complications, including developmental delays in speech and movement, problems with balance and coordination, intellectual disabilities and seizures.
Zika is also associated with a higher risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome. Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare but serious neurological disorder in which an affected individual’s immune system attacks his or her nerves. The disorder usually presents itself with tingling, weakness or some degree of paresthesia. Sometimes the disease can progress and lead to partial or total paralysis, which can be fatal if respiratory muscles are affected.
If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, then you should avoid traveling to areas where the transmission of Zika is ongoing – including Rio de Janeiro. You should also refrain from engaging in sexual intercourse with your partner if he or she is returning from a country where the risk of contracting Zika is high. Visiting a medical center with your partner to get tested for Zika will be necessary to ensure the safety of everyone’s health, including your unborn child’s.
LifeStyle Medical Centers
For “lifestyle-changers” who have a regular routine of physical activity outdoors, the risks of Zika may be a tempting reason to stay inside. It’s important to be mindful of your outdoor activities when visiting areas like Rio where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and the transmission of Zika are more prevalent, and this is equally true even if you’ll be spending this August at home; however, we hope you’ll find respite from those pesky creatures without sacrificing your workout routine.
The team of providers at LifeStyle Medical Centers is full of creative ways to keep you moving even if you want to decrease your activity outdoors while traveling (or at home). We also encourage you and your partner to consider adding us to your list of stops if you currently are or have been considering pregnancy. Pre-conception and pregnancy are vital times to consider tweaking your lifestyle habits for the better, and we can also help you reduce your risk for Zika transmission.
Our experienced medical assistants and clinicians are dedicated to making your health our priority. Lifestyle’s combined treatment approach incorporates stellar medical care and teaching you about necessary preventive measures while providing ongoing support for you and your family.