As you may have heard, the World Health Organization recently declared Zika an international health emergency. Though it was once considered a very rare virus, the mosquito-borne illness has spread in the past few months to over 20 countries. Here’s what you need to know.
How Zika spreads
The Zika virus is primarily contracted by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. However, it can also pass from mother to child during pregnancy and from donor to recipient through blood transfusion. Researchers recently discovered that Zika can be transmitted sexually as well.
Health effects and risks
Most people do not show any symptoms or will only have mild symptoms after being infected with Zika virus, which increases the risk of spreading the infection because many people won’t realize that they have it until it’s too late.
Several countries have reported that recent Zika outbreaks have been associated with an increase in people being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome. The Centers for Disease Control suggest a strong correlation between Zika and GBS.
The greatest risk posed by Zika is the potential for serious birth defects, specifically microcephaly. Microcephaly causes a child’s head to be much smaller than those of their peers. As a result, these babies often have smaller, underdeveloped brains. Other health problems related to microcephaly include vision and hearing loss, seizures, and learning disabilities.
How to protect yourself if you are pregnant
The CDC recently issued travel notices, advising pregnant women to avoid traveling to countries in which the Zika virus has spread, such as El Salvador, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, and others in the Caribbean, South America, and Central America.
Health insurance while traveling
Some health insurance policies cover services abroad. For instance, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, some Medicare Supplement Insurance policies cover emergency services during foreign travel. Many insurance plans do not cover services or treatments abroad, so if you do contract Zika in another country, you will have to return to the U.S. for medical care. For seniors, this could be a good time to consider a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan to make sure you are covered.
If you believe you are at risk of contracting Zika virus, talk to your doctor. A simple blood or urine test can confirm a diagnosis.