Imagine spending your whole life training for the Olympics and finally having the opportunity to participate in the Games, only to be told that if you attended, you could encounter a potentially life-changing virus. Would you still compete?
That’s the predicament female US Olympic athletes are facing right now. The spread of the Zika virus in South American countries, including Brazil, the site of the 2016 Olympics, poses a potential threat to any US female athlete who’s trying to get pregnant in the near future. This is because women infected by the Zika virus while pregnant, or trying to conceive, put their unborn child at risk for devastating birth defects. Warnings and precautionary measures have been communicated to the US athletes, but most athletes still plan on competing.
WHAT IS ZIKA VIRUS? IS IT IN THE US?
Similar to the Dengue virus, Zika is transmitted through mosquito bites. The mosquito contracts the virus from biting another human who has the virus. While Zika virus infection is only temporary, the virus is particularly dangerous for pregnant women. If a pregnant woman contracts the virus, she can transfer the virus to the fetus, putting the unborn child at risk for birth defects.
In the US, cases of Zika have been reported, but those cases reflect people who have been infected through travel – they have not been infected while being in the US. However, there have also been recent cases reported in the US where people have contracted the virus through sexual intercourse with someone has been infected with Zika.
SYMPTOMS OF ZIKA
Symptoms of Zika include:
- Achy joints
- Red eyes
The symptoms start about 2-7 days after the bite from the mosquito. Only 1 in 5 people show symptoms after being infected with the Zika virus. Most people heal well and it is very rarely fatal.
WHY ARE PEOPLE SO WORRIED?
The major concern about the Zika virus relates to women who are planning to get pregnant or who are already pregnant and contract the virus. The virus is thought to be linked to birth defects, including microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than average. Babies with microcephaly often have lower than average brain development.
Zika virus can be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth. Current studies on how some mothers can pass the virus to their babies are underway.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine is available to protect anyone from the Zika virus. If you get sick treat the symptoms like you would if you had the flu. This includes:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever and pain (avoid aspirin or other non-steroidal anti inflammatory medications)
- Drink fluids
To prevent being infected with the Zika virus, it is recommended to avoid traveling to areas where Zika is prevalent. Though, with the recent discovery that people can contract of Zika through sex, it’s possible the virus could to spread to many different areas of the US.
- Qear long sleeves
- Stay inside with screens and air conditioning to deter them
- If outside, wear insect repellent
- Shield yourself as much as possible outside using tents
If you become infected, protect others by avoid getting bit by mosquitos within the first week of the infection when the infection is able to be passed through mosquitoes.
The good news is, once you have Zika, you usually do not get sick from it again.
For now, the Zika virus is not a disease to freak out about unless you are planning to get pregnant, or already pregnant, and planning to travel to areas where the disease is prevalent. The CDC recommends to avoid travelling if pregnant or planning to become pregnant to those areas. The CDC also recommends visiting their website for up to date information as Zika is researched more. If you develop any symptoms, let your doctor know.