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Protecting yourself against the Zika virus

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(Photo credit: LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)

The CDC has now identified 107 cases of the Zika virus from people returning to the US from Zika infected areas and 157 cases from the US territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and US Virgin Islands. In addition, there are several cases of men with the Zika virus transmitting the virus to women during intercourse and the first assessment of the effect of Zika on pregnant women in the US.

Puerto Rico, like its Caribbean neighbors, is being especially hard hit. While there are less than 200 cases there now, it could rise into the thousands before over the next couple of years. Similarly, the number of cases continues to grow throughout Central and South America where the CDC is now recommending that pregnant women should not travel to the Summer Olympics in Brazil. For that matter, women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant should avoid traveling to areas with high transmission rates.

With two confirmed cases and four probably cases of Zika transmission during intercourse, this is very concerning. They have actually found the Zika virus in semen. The problem is that they don’t know how long the virus can hang around and some of the transmissions occurred in people who had recently finished having symptoms of the disease where you would suspect the immune system had eradicated it. Because the testicles make sperm which is like a foreign thing, the body does not amount a full immune response there are it can be a reservoir for the virus. So they say use condoms to prevent transmission but how long you need to do this after contracting the Zika virus isn’t known.

There have been nine confirmed cases of Zika virus in pregnant women and 10 other possible cases. Let’s break down what happened to the nine women. Two had miscarriages, one terminated pregnancy after brain abnormalities were noted and another terminated pregnancy but the reasons were not known. Two babies were born healthy while one had microcephaly and the rest are still pregnant.

If you or your partner is pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you should avoid those countries in Central and South America that have high incidence rates. If you are a man and contract Zika, you could infect your baby and it is possible that this could occur even if your partner is already pregnant. If you have to go, check out the CDC website for approved mosquito repellents like DEET, stay out of swampy areas, and use physical barriers such as mosquito nets and long sleeves and pants to reduce your chances in infection.