by Lauren Mandel
Over the past few weeks, you may have heard more and more about Zika, something that has always been considered a very rare virus. However, after first making its presence known in Brazil, Zika has now infected people in more than 20 countries in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. And the World Health Organization just declared Zika an international health emergency.
You also may have heard that the Zika virus – which most commonly spreads to humans through mosquito bites – is especially dangerous when contracted by pregnant women. Researchers believe Zika may be linked to a rise in “microcephaly,” a birth defect that causes small heads and incomplete brain development in newborn babies.
The news of Zika is still relatively new, and while there aren’t yet answers to every important question, below is basic information to help you learn the facts about the Zika virus.
How do you get Zika?
According to researchers, the Zika virus is mainly spread through mosquitoes: a mosquito bites a human with the Zika virus, the mosquito becomes infected with Zika, and then it goes on to bite other humans, therefore spreading the virus. However, there could be other ways to spread and contract Zika. Some believe it could be sexually transmitted, and it can also be transmitted through blood and from mother to fetus.
Who is at risk of getting infected?
Anyone, but the risk is greatest for pregnant women. In most people, Zika may result in a rash or flu-like symptoms that eventually go away. An estimated 80 percent of people who contract the virus show no symptoms at all. But for pregnant women, the results can be much more severe.
What could happen if a pregnant woman contracts Zika?
The main concern for pregnant women who get Zika is that the virus may be the cause of serious birth defects, including incomplete brain development and babies born with small heads. Babies born with “microcephaly” can also have a range of other health problems, including vision and hearing loss, seizures, and learning disabilities.
If I’m pregnant, what precautions should I take against Zika?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued travel notices, advising pregnant women to “practice enhanced precautions” when it comes to traveling to countries where the Zika virus has spread. These countries include El Salvador, Guatemala, Brazil, and Venezuela, as well as the entire country of Mexico and many other countries in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
If you must travel to one of these countries, it’s extremely important to protect yourself from mosquito bites by using bug spray, putting up mosquito tents, and wearing long, thick clothing.
If I’m traveling to one of these countries, will my health insurance coverage any treatment costs should I get Zika?
When venturing outside the United States, it’s always important to consider getting travelers insurance. While some health plans may cover health care services abroad, many do not. So if you contract Zika while abroad, you may have to come back to the United States to seek treatment.
How do I find out if I have Zika?
As of right now, there are no commercial companies offering a test for Zika; only the CDC and a few health labs can conduct these tests. However, if you exhibit symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor right away.
What do I do if I find out I have Zika?
If you think you may have the Zika virus, talk to your doctor right away. He or she may prescribe a drug such as acetaminophen or paracetamol to relieve fever and pain, but do not take any aspirin. Under the Affordable Care Act, prescription drugs are covered as one of 10 Essential Health Benefits, so don’t be afraid to fill a prescription for a medication you need. You should also get rest and drink plenty of fluids.
If you need help finding a doctor, professionals who are part of GoHealth Access can help you locate one who is in your network and who can effectively treat the Zika virus. Here is more information on treating the Zika virus in pregnant women.