"The latest buzz is about the Zika virus. Sorry for the pun, but does it really do much harm to your hearing?" Rodney questioned.
The answer is, "Yes, and it depends on variables."
Let us first understand what the Zika virus really is. The Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitos. It is related to yellow fever and West Nile viruses. Although it has been around since approximately 1947, the western world had not, until recently, been exposed. Only female mosquitoes bite people. They need blood to lay their eggs. It moves from the gut of the female mosquito up to their gland and is injected in people when bit. The mosquito is injecting an anticoagulant into the human so as it sucks the blood, no clotting can occur. These Zika mosquitos are of the Aedes genus, which bite in the daytime and breed on very small amounts of water, like a bottle cap.
Once a human is bitten, it may take some time for the symptoms to appear. This is where it becomes difficult for the physicians. The blood test to determine if you have the Zika virus has a small window of time, five days from bite usually. Initially symptoms may be a rash, fever, headaches, joint pain, conjunctivitis (pink eye) and sensitivity to light (photophobia). However, you also may be asymptomatic, not realizing you have been bitten or at risk. Usually these symptoms recover in a week to ten days.
It is most important for women who are in their first trimester of pregnancy and the unborn child to be tested. People of all ages can be affected, but to various degrees. Those who are elderly or very young are especially susceptible.
The research is noting lasting effects in the areas of tinnitus (ringing in the ears), vertigo and hearing loss. The unborn children are at risk for being born with microcephaly (abnormally small head). This increases risk of brain damage, hearing and balance disorders and visual difficulties. Some of the evidence suggests the brain in these infants have points of calcification while other evidence suggest insufficient neurons to cochlear nerve damage. No matter the reason, audiologists are warning patients who contract the virus that hearing loss, tinnitus and balance disorders are occurring as a result. For the newborns, hearing testing is an essential need. Testing should also be followed up in preschool and elementary grades for many years by an audiologist.
If someone questions or thinks they have come in contact with the Zika virus, contact your physician. If you are having the symptoms of tinnitus, vertigo and hearing loss, contact your audiologist right away. If you have symptoms of Zika during pregnancy make sure you follow up with your child's audiologist for hearing and balance disorders. Hearing and balance disorders may occur not just at birth, but months and year afterward.
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Patricia Larson Shields, AuD FAAA MA CCC-SP/L is a doctor of audiology with her degree from The School of Audiology of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in February, 2003. She has been in business in Mitchell, SD since September, 1991.