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Obesity, microcephaly and the Zika virus: How serious is the Zika virus?

Lana Bandoim's picture

The WHO, CDC and other large health organizations have created official travel warnings for anyone who may be planning to visit South America because of an outbreak of the Zika virus. Although knowledge about the virus is limited, there is a strong warning for those who are pregnant and may become pregnant based on potential health risks for unborn children. The virus has also raised other questions, and researchers are taking a closer look at it. Could the Zika virus also be one of the viral infections that has been linked to obesity? Is the virus responsible for microcephaly in babies?


Viruses and obesity

An article published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings reveals that several viral infections have been linked to obesity. Dr. Richard Atkinson states that eight viruses have been identified, and three of them are human. The other five viruses are animal. For example, the Human Ad-36 virus has been tested in laboratories, and the animals used in the study had a significant increase in fat and weight. Furthermore, viruses such as Human Ad-36 can spread to uninfected individuals. Researchers believe that there are other viruses that can cause weight gain in humans and animals. Since information about the Zika virus is still limited, it has been suggested that the link to obesity should be investigated.

Current information

The Zika virus has been around for almost 70 years, but until recently, it had not traveled close enough to the United States for it to be a concern. Now, it is closer to our borders and outbreaks have spread, so health organizations want to make sure that everyone is aware of the risks.

Information about the Zika virus is incomplete, so this affects the advice that can be provided about the subject. Researchers know that it is a mosquito-borne virus that might also be transmitted through other insects that bite. There have also been isolated cases of the virus being spread through a blood transfusion or sexual contact. Researchers are looking into the possibility that the virus is linked to microcephaly, which is an abnormally small head, in babies. There are also conversations about taking a closer look at obesity and the virus.

Not everyone who comes in contact with the virus will show symptoms. Only one in five will become ill, according to the CDC, and their symptoms will be similar to the flu. This includes fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis or red eyes. Some people also report muscle pain and headaches. For the majority of those who get the virus, the symptoms only last a few days. Within two weeks, the virus has completely left their systems. It is not likely to make someone sick enough to visit a hospital, and it is not likely to cause death. In addition, once a person has caught the virus, they will be immune to it in the future.

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Current speculation

The virus symptoms may sound mild to some people and hardly worth canceling plans to avoid mosquitoes. However, there have been suggested connections made between the virus and certain birth defects. This puts women who are pregnant or who conceive while the virus is still in their system at risk. There is also concern that the virus may be transmitted sexually. This means that if a man has the virus, he should avoid having intercourse with a woman until the virus has left his system. There are also other risks that are being investigated.

The CDC has not yet confirmed these suspicions, and it clearly states that it does not know the exact health effects. Nevertheless, it still advises people to take precautions while traveling until further investigations can be carried out.

Should you travel?

First, you want to determine if the Zika virus is a concern before booking your travel plans. If you contact a travel agency, they should be able to tell you if your destination is on the CDC’s list of areas harboring the virus, and then advise you about your travel plans. If it has been determined that your destination could put you at risk of catching the virus, there are several things you can do.

There is currently no vaccine for the virus, so a single doctor’s visit before your trip will not help. The CDC strongly advises strict adherence to protection measures against mosquitoes. These include using an EPA-approved repellent on top of your sunscreen, wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts, ensuring that your clothing material is thick enough to fend off a mosquito bite and sleeping in an air-conditioned, screened room.

They also recommend that those traveling in areas where the Zika virus is prevalent should not be pregnant or trying to get pregnant until at least two weeks after the conclusion of their visit. It is smart to wait before you become pregnant because you may not have symptoms but still have the virus in your system. Two weeks should be enough time for the virus to run its course. If the risk of the virus still concerns you, the advisory recommends that you do not travel to areas where the virus is prevalent.