Zika Virus: Everything You Need to Know When Living in San Francisco

Panic spread across the globe in May 2015 when the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert after the first confirmed case of a Zika infection appeared in Brazil, and again in February this year after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

So far, there have been two cases of Zika infection in San Francisco. Why should you care and what can you do to avoid infection?

What Is Zika and How Is It Spread?

The Zika virus was first found in Uganda in 1947 in the Zika forest, after which it was named. The first human case appeared in 1952, and since then there have been outbreaks in tropical Africa, the Pacific Islands, and Southeast Asia.

Zika was first thought to be harmless, but since May 2015, Brazil experienced an increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, which coincided with an increase in outbreaks of Zika. Researchers started to link Zika with microcephaly, and although scientists are still studying the full range of potential health problems, one thing is for sure: Our babies are in danger.

Microcephaly is a sickness found in infants which causes eye defects and hearing loss, and stunts the growth of the fetus’ head which can cause devastating brain damage. Microcephaly can also cause a miscarriage or stillbirth. More than 1,300 babies have been born with Zika-related microcephaly in Brazil alone.

Zika is primarily spread by infected Aedes mosquitoes. It’s quickly spreading across the globe, but areas with higher summertime temperatures are particularly attractive to the Aedes mosquito. The WHO predicts that as many as 4 million people could be infected with the Zika virus this year in the Americas, and according to the CDC, in May there were already 544 cases of Zika reported in the United States.

The Zika virus isn’t solely spread by mosquitoes: Having sex with an infected male can also spread the virus, and pregnant women can pass it on to their babies.

What Are the Zika Symptoms and How Can It Be Treated?

Zika symptoms are usually mild and last for only a few days to a week. Many people don’t even realize that they’re infected. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pains, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Once you are infected, you’re not likely to get Zika again.

Zika is detected with a blood or urine test. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika yet and no medicine to treat it; you can only treat the symptoms. If infected, it’s advisable that you get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration, and take medication to reduce fever and joint pain.

If you’re pregnant and suspect you have Zika, you need to see your doctor immediately. Your doctor will test you for the virus, and if infected, she will screen the development of your fetus every few weeks.

How Can San Francisco Avoid Zika from Spreading?

Both Zika infection cases in San Francisco were travel-related, and at this stage, traveling to and from countries where the Zika virus is present is our biggest threat.

The US island territory, Puerto Rico, is a popular tourist destination for Americans, including San Franciscans. There are more than 100 flights daily between Puerto Rico and America, and nearly 40 cruise ships with thousands of passengers pass through the port of San Juan every week. Puerto Rico is currently experiencing a shortage of healthcare professionals due to their huge debts. The health authorities fear that as much as 700,000 Puerto Ricans can be infected with the Zika virus before the end of the year.

Another country we need to watch out for is Brazil, where Zika is epidemic. The next Summer Olympic Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro from August 5th to the 21st, 2016, which many Americans will attend.

Before you travel, make sure you know which precautions to take:

1. Visit the CDC traveler’s health site to understand which countries the Zika virus is present and to receive alerts from the CDC.

2. If you’re pregnant, avoid traveling to infected countries if possible.

3. Prevent mosquito bites as follows:

4. Men should use condoms when having sex for at least eight weeks after their travels. If your partner is pregnant, use condoms throughout her pregnancy or avoid sex altogether.

5. If you feel sick after your trip, visit your doctor immediately and make sure you mention your travels.

Help keep Zika from spreading and protect our babies. If you need any further information, or you suspect you’ve contracted the Zika virus, reach out to Dr. Payal Bhandari.

Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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