April 08, 2016
Zika virus has been creating waves of panic across the Americas since the winter of 2015. While for most people, catching Zika is about on par with getting the flu, it's been linked to significant birth defects when pregnant women contract the disease.
Zika also presents an additional threat to other at-risk populations: the elderly, the immunocompromised and young children. Because of their weaker immune systems, these groups are more likely to suffer complications from diseases that most of the population is able to withstand.
Zika virus is transmitted by mosquito bites. If the pesky insect bites a person who has Zika, that mosquito can then transmit the disease to any other person it feeds on. With spring upon us, the weather conditions will be more hospitable to mosquito populations, sending more of the insects to larger areas of the country, spreading the virus along the way.
There is no cure for Zika or any vaccines to prevent it. The only way that parents can protect their children from this disease is to limit their exposure to mosquitoes and to treat symptoms carefully if the disease is contracted.
"There is no cure for Zika, or any vaccines to prevent it."
What do parents need to know about Zika?
The symptoms of Zika virus are similar to the flu or common cold. According to the Centers for Disease Control, people who have been infected by Zika have fever, rash, achy joints and pink eye. These conditions typically last about a week.
If your child starts to display these symptoms and you suspect he or she could have been bitten by a mosquito, you should contact your doctor. In most cases, Zika will just be treated like the flu. Kids will need to get plenty of rest and take in plenty of healthy fluids, like water, no added sugar juice or electrolyte-heavy beverages like sports or medicinal drinks. If your child is sore, use acetaminophen instead of ibuprofen or aspirin unless otherwise instructed by a doctor. Zika shows similar signs to dengue fever and nonsteroidal pain relievers don't mix well with that disease. Once it's been ruled out, you should be able to administer the pain reliever of your choice.
In some cases, kids may need to stay at the hospital for observation and to receive intravenous fluids. If you're treating your child at home and the fever spikes, lasts for more than 24 hours in a toddler or more than three days in a child over the age of 3, you should take him or her back to the doctor.
How to prevent Zika infections
The first step in Zika prevention is avoiding areas where cases of the illness have been confirmed. This includes Central America, South American and parts of Asia and Africa. To date there have been no cases of U.S. born mosquitoes passing the disease along, but travelers have returned infected to a number of states across the country. If your family plans to take any vacations this spring, be sure to look up if your intended destination has reported cases of the disease.
At home, you'll want to make sure there aren't any good mosquito breeding grounds on your property. Mosquitos lay eggs in shallow, stagnant water, and are more likely to hang out in wet areas. To be safe, keep bird baths and kiddie pools empty. After it rains, walk around the outside of your home and look for puddles in any lawn ornaments or toys. Be sure to dump anything that is holding water.
Try to limit skin exposure when kids go outside. Long pants and shirts will help keep mosquitoes from biting. As the weather warms up, opt for light-colored, lightweight clothing to prevent kids from overheating. They should also be sprayed with insect repellent to help keep the bugs away.