Zika virus is becoming the latest health scare, getting global attention as quickly as it has spread across several countries. There has already been a handful of confirmed cases in the United States, and The World Health Organization estimates there could be up to 4 million cases of Zika in the Americas in the next year.
Zika virus is transmitted to humans through bites from infected Aedes mosquitos. Most people who get infected don’t even realize it — and therefore never seek medical attention. Only about 20% of those infected develop mild symptoms, such as a low-grade fever, sore body, headache, and red eyes (conjunctivitis).
The major fear of Zika is prompted by the serious health problems the virus is linked to in rare cases. Reports of Guillame-Barre Syndrome, a serious neurological condition that can lead to paralysis, have risen in areas where the virus has been reported. In addition, researchers have noticed an alarming spike in babies born with abnormally small heads (a condition called microcephaly) in countries that the virus is most prevalent.
There is no specific cure or vaccine to prevent the Zika virus, so prevention is key. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes in the first place. WHO suggests this can be done by using insect repellent; wearing clothes (preferably light-coloured) that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets. It is also important to empty, clean or cover containers that can hold water such as buckets, flower pots or tyres, so that places where mosquitoes can breed are removed.