Doctors discuss Zika symptoms amid rise in local cases

MIAMI (WSVN) - As the number of South Florida Zika cases climbed to 30, Monday, health specialists advised local residents and visitors who believe they may have been exposed to the mosquito-borne virus to search for specific symptoms.

There are two kinds of mosquitoes that carry Zika. They are the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, and doctors said they thrive in urban areas like Wynwood, the Miami neighborhood that became ground zero for local transmission of the virus.

“You have the tourists, you have the mosquitoes, and you have the locals walking around, and you have restaurants outdoors, it’s just the perfect environment,” said Dr. Paola Lichtenberger, an infectious disease specialist and the director of the University of Miami’s Tropical Medicine Program.

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These mosquitoes bite day and night, and according to Lichtenberger, most people won’t even know if they have the disease. “About 80 percent of the people who get the Zika virus infection will not present any symptoms,” she said.

If a mosquito carrying Zika does bite, it can take up to two weeks to cause symptoms like:

  • fever
  • headache
  • skin rash
  • joint pain
  • conjunctivitis, which causes red, irritated eyes

“Those four signs and symptoms are typical,” said Lichtenberger. “You may have one. You may have two. You may have the four of them.”

The symptoms last about a week, and there is no treatment for the virus. “Then, after day 5 or 7, all the symptoms are going to go away, without treatment,” said Lichtenberger. “It’s a self-limited viral process, so you’re going to get better independently of what you do.”

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Pregnant women are at the highest risk for Zika, since the virus can be transmitted from mother to fetus and cause severe birth defects like microcephaly, in which the baby is born with an abnormally small head.

There are other serious conditions Zika can cause, though they are rare. Guillain-Barre syndrome causes weakness or paralysis, and thrombocytopenia can cause internal bleeding.

If you are bitten and develop flu-like symptoms, doctors advise you to get tested. It’s important to know if what you have is Zika or another mosquito-borne illness like dengue fever.

“If you get dengue, then it has a one percent possibility to give you severe dengue,” said Lichtenberger. “That one may be fatal, so that’s why it’s so important to identify Zika.”

Doctors have been studying the Zika virus a long time. It was first detected in Uganda in the 1940s.

The good news, they said, is that once you have it, you won’t get it again. “Once you have the viral disease, you are immune for life,” said Lichtenberger. If you get pregnant afterwards, it’s fine. Nothing is going to happen to you. You’re safe in terms of having a normal, healthy, Zika-free pregnancy.”

Although there currently is no treatment for the Zika virus, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has launched clinical trials in three different locations in the U.S., as they continue to search for a vaccine.

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