Since the outbreak first began last summer, dozens of countries in Central and South America has reported cases of Zika, a mosquito-borne illness linked to severe birth defects.
There have been several travel-related cases of Zika in the United States, after residents traveled to Zika-affected countries and returned home. Florida actually has the most Zika infections of any state in the U.S., with 87 confirmed cases as of April. Health officials expect the outbreak to continue, with an estimated 200,000 cases of Zika worldwide by this summer.
But who is at risk for Zika? Everyone is vulnerable, including the elderly. If you have friends or family visiting from a Zika-affected country, there’s a possibility that you could get the infection. In addition to the mosquito that carries the disease, health officials now know that Zika can stay in a person’s bodily fluid long after symptoms of the infection disappear. One male patient, for example, still had traces of Zika 62 days after he first showed symptoms of the virus. It also may be possible to spread the virus through a blood transfusion or from mother to baby, which is why we’ve seen increased cases of microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to be born with small heads and that may affect brain development.
Aside from the risk to pregnant women, the virus also poses a risk to people with compromised or weak immune systems, like small children and the elderly. Zika isn’t fatal, but it does lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as fever, rash and pink eye. However, if an elderly person’s immune system is compromised, it can take longer to recover from this infection and the symptoms may be more severe. One elderly man was diagnosed with Zika in March after traveling to El Salvador. He later died of a sudden hemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm. Doctors aren’t sure if there’s a direct link between the man’s Zika infection and his sudden death.
Elderly residents of Florida, in particular, should be cautious. Florida, which already leads the country in confirmed Zika cases, is a potential hotbed for mosquitoes because of our climate, so it’s important to limit your exposure to mosquitoes. Dress in long-sleeve, light-colored clothing when you’re outside. Always use insect repellant and try to stay in an enclosed area with a screen or netting when sitting outdoors for long periods of time.
If you begin to experience symptoms like rash, headache or pink eye, see a doctor immediately. You may not have Zika, but it’s best to see a medical professional to rule it out. Take this precaution not only for yourself, but for those around you. Health officials are still learning more about this virus and there isn’t yet a vaccine to treat it, so take the necessary steps to stay safe.pharmacy