What Seniors Need to Know About Zika

Healthy Living

March 29, 2017

What Dangers Can the Zika Virus Present For Seniors

We all know that Zika has an affect on pregnant women and men and women looking to get pregnant soon, but how does it affect other demographics like the senior citizen population. Should older adults be worried about Zika too?

How Do I Get The Zika Virus?

The Zika virus is primarily spread to humans from the bite of an Aedes mosquito that’s been infected with Zika. The Aedes mosquito is also responsible for the spread of other diseases such as Chikungunya and dengue fever. Zika can also be transmitted from one person to another (of all ages) through unprotected sexual contact; this includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have also determined that the Zika virus can be spread by Zika infected blood transfusions or tissue donation.

What Are The Symptoms Of The Zika Virus?

The symptoms for the Zika virus are very mild and some people never notice any symptoms at all. If you do get symptoms they typically don’t last more than 2 to 3 days to a week.

The symptoms of Zika may include some or all of the following:

  • Fever
  • Joint Pain
  • Red Eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Rash
  • Headaches (rarely)
  • Muscle Pain (rarely)

Important To Know:

If you have reason to believe you may have Zika symptoms its important to contact your doctor right away because you can only be tested for the virus while its still in your blood, that’s about a week.

Does Zika Present Health Dangers To Older Adults?

As you may have heard or read about in the news, the Zika virus was initially thought to be a relatively harmless virus typically showing very mild flu symptoms or none at all, that was until the CDC made the connection between the Zika virus to severe birth defects, microcephaly and Guillain-Barré Syndrome. There are also studies being conducted to determine if the Zika virus can negatively affect male fertility and the injury and/or destruction of testicular tissue.

The Zika virus is suspected to cause microcephaly and other devastating birth defects in the fetuses of pregnant women who contract Zika during their pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean older adults shouldn’t be concerned. The virus has also been strongly linked to a rare autoimmune disease called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). GBS is often associated with people of older ages, and under recent study it’s now believed to be linked to some people who contract the Zika virus, particularly older adults.

What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disorder that can cause a person’s immune system to attack its own nerve cells; this can have serious health ramifications for older adults. GBS can cause severe muscle weakness, even paralysis, in the limbs (arms and legs) and the muscles that regulate your breathing. Although usually quite rare, GBS can even cause death. GBS affects more people who’re 50 years of age and older, and the risks of Guillain-Barré increase as your age does.

How You Can Prevent Getting The Zika Virus And Treat It

There is no vaccine for Zika yet, although researchers are working hard to make one as quickly as possible it may be years away, but below are steps you can take that can help prevent you from getting or spreading the Zika virus to others. And what you can do to treat the symptoms.

Steps To Take To Help Prevent Getting Or Spreading Zika:

  1. Avoid travel itineraries that have recently had or are experiencing an outbreak of the Zika virus.
  2. If you must travel to Zika outbreak areas use CDC approved mosquito repellent on exposed areas of your skin, wear protective clothing, use bug netting around your bed/sleeping bag, secure window screens and make sure they’re intact (no holes) sleep in an air-conditioned room.
  3. No matter what your age, always practice safe sex by using condoms.
  4. Mosquitoes breed in standing water, remove any pots, cans or receptacles (no mater how small) that can collect water; a thimble full is enough for a mosquito to lay its eggs in.

There isn’t a treatment for the Zika virus, but you can treat its symptoms. Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated (drink lots of water, and eat a healthy balanced diet. Check with your doctor first, but typically over the counter fever and pain reducers are ample medication for relief of the virus’ symptoms.

Where You Can Get Testing For Zika

If you suspect or know you may have been exposed to the Zika virus by a sexual partner or have traveled to an outbreak area and are experiencing Zika related symptoms you should contact your local health department, the Centers for Disease Control or call 1-800-232-4636 to find out where you can be tested for the Zika virus nearest you. The CDC can answer all your questions regarding the Zika virus including where the latest outbreaks of the Zika virus is occurring.