As the Zika virus continues its relentless march worldwide, much has been said about the (horrific) risks to pregnant women and their unborn babies. And rightly so. But what about the rest of us non-gestating humans? The World Health Organization estimates over 4 million people in North and South America will be infected this year. So how scary is the disease for us?
The short answer: Not very, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most people infected with Zika will have no symptoms and likely won’t even know they’re sick. The majority of the Zika-infected adults recently identified in Miami, for instance, didn’t even know they had it until they were informed by epidemiologists. And the CDC adds that the people who do feel ill will likely experience only very mild cold- and flu-like symptoms that last a few days.
After they’ve had the illness, people with Zika will develop an immunity to the virus and therefore won’t have to worry about getting it again. In addition, the CDC says there’s no evidence Zika can affect future pregnancies of women who had the disease before they got pregnant.
That doesn’t mean the disease is 100 percent harmless for non-preggos, however. The CDC warns that in rare cases, Zika can trigger the onset of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an uncommon autoimmune disorder that can result in paralysis and some other neurological conditions. In addition, some scientists are concerned that while the disease may seem to lay low after the initial infection, it could pop up later, causing ongoing life-long symptoms of varying severity in some patients. Lastly, it can sometimes be deadly to adult carriers. Brazil, the country at the center of the infection, recently reported three adults have died, and while Zika doesn’t seem to be the main cause of their deaths, the virus was present and so could have worsened any existing health issues.
None of this is cause for panic, the CDC says, advising Americans to take reasonable precautions to avoid mosquito bites like wearing long pants and sleeves, using insect repellent, avoiding being outside during dawn and dusk and keeping windows closed or using screens — all of which is good advice for everyone as getting a bite from one of the bloodsuckers can result in any number of mosquito-born illnesses beyond Zika, like West Nile virus or chikungunya at worst, and at best it is still a really ugly, itchy, annoying bite!