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Medical news of recent weeks has focused on the Zika virus, a disease spread by mosquitoes. The disease started in Africa and has since spread to South America where scientists and medical professionals believe there may be a strong link between the virus and a significant rise in birth defects.  Although little concern had been given to Zika in the past, the concern about the potential link to birth defects and miscarriages has the medical community investigating this disease more thoroughly.

The idea of the bugs traveling north and of people exposed in other countries returning to the United States, has given the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and others pause for reflection and opportunity to talk about what the spread of the Zika virus might mean.

What is Zika?

The Zika virus is an illness caused by mosquitoes. The bites of these bugs infected with the disease produce fever, rash, and muscle pain, among other symptoms.  One out of four people infected with the disease develops symptoms. Among those who do get it, the disease is usually mild and can last 2-7 days. However, some cases are of a more serious nature.

Zika and Pregnancy

Some health officials believe there is a link between the Zika virus and birth defects and miscarriages. The CDC recommends pregnant women not travel to countries that’s had an outbreak of Zika. The organization also recommends people implement ways to protect themselves from mosquitoes, including wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants and using EPA-registered insect repellants; these are considered safe for pregnant and breast-feeding women. For more information on Zika and pregnancy, visit the CDC’s website. For more prevention tips, visit http://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/index.html.

Zika may also be transmitted sexually via a man’s semen.  According to the CDC, if you are pregnant and your male partner has traveled to an area where the Zika virus exists, do not have sex with him while you’re pregnant and/or talk with your doctor about ways to prevent Zika transmission. Just today, several new cases regarding potential sexual transmission in the United States have been reported.

Why be Concerned, Especially in Wyoming?

Although no mosquito-borne virus has been detected in the United States, there have been cases of travel-related occurrences in several states. People in Wyoming travel for business as well as for pleasure to countries where Zika has cropped up: Africa, Asia, Brazil, and Puerto Rico, to name a few locations. Knowledge is power and learning how to protect oneself, especially if you are pregnant, thinking of becoming pregnant, or know someone who is. For a list of places with an outbreak of the Zika virus, visit http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html.

Other mosquito-borne diseases are more prevalent and therefore also concerning, for those of us living in Wyoming. That includes the West Nile Virus. Although most cases of West Nile are mild and the illness goes away on its own, some people can develop a life-threatening illness that includes inflammation of the spinal cord or brain. Learn more at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/west-nile-virus/home/ovc-20166289.

A woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding has a slim to marginal chance of passing West Nile on to her unborn or newborn child. However, some cases of such have been reported, according to the CDC; therefore, again protective measures (such as wearing long sleeves and using EPA-approved insect repellant) is recommended.

With spring approaching and the likelihood of bugs, including mosquitoes encroaching and people spending more time outdoors, pregnant women and everyone else are encouraged to take precautions to protect themselves.

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