The Zika virus seems to be showing up in more places and having a more widespread effect than it originally appeared that it would. However, if you’ve never traveled to any of the countries where the virus is widespread, you might wonder what all the fuss is about.
Here’s what the fuss is about.
You’ve probably heard about the birth defects that occur to babies born of women who contract the virus while pregnant. That in itself is a terrible thing. But you don’t have to go to Brazil to contract the virus. If you’re female, you only have to engage in sexual activity with a man who has the virus to become infected.
Not only that, recent medical studies have causally linked the Zika virus to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare and dangerous paralysis disorder.
Tell Me About Zika
At least two dozen countries—numbers vary—have recorded cases of the virus. In the western hemisphere, it is rampant as far north as Mexico and as far south as Paraguay, and also in the Caribbean islands that are popular places to visit.
Originally it was thought that the virus causes only a mild, flulike infection in adults, and that only being bitten by an infected mosquito can give it to you. Information has moved beyond that. Here’s what you need to know:
- The virus is common in many warmer climates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for up-to-date information should you intend to travel to tropical locations outside the U.S.
- Take precautions if you will be visiting an area with Zika. That means mosquito repellant with DEET in it and appropriate clothing. The virus is spread by an aggressive biter, the Aedes aegyptimosquito, which is active during the daytime and likes to make its home indoors. Yes, indoors.
- The virus has been spread from men to women engaging in sexual contact. It’s not yet clear whether women can infect men through sexual transmission.
- The virus will cause birth injuries.
- There is no cure or vaccine for Zika.
- The newest risk comes from the possibility of the virus causing Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a rare autoimmune disorder that usually affects about 1 in 100,000 people. With GBS, your body attacks your nervous system, often your peripheral nerves (your extremities), resulting in muscle weakness and sometimes complete paralysis. The cause is usually unknown, but it often shows up after some kind of infectious illness or after a case of food poisoning caused by Campylobacter, found in undercooked poultry and other undercooked foods. There’s no cure, and it can take from several weeks to several years to recover. It is a serious, fast-moving disease that requires prompt emergency care.
A paper published recently in The Lancet, a British medical journal, studied an enormous outbreak of Zika in French Polynesia during 2013, where 50 people came down with GBS. The normal occurrence of GBS would be only 3 to 10 cases a year. The case for the Zika virus causing GBS appears strong. An increase in cases of GBS has also been reported in Brazil, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia and Suriname.
What Do I Do Now?
First, if you suspect you have had Zika, try to get tested, but such testing can be hard to obtain. Speak with your doctor about your concerns, especially if you are female, although males should be tested to protect their spouses if they believe they have been exposed.
Certain legal circumstances should be pointed out:
- The law will likely be of little help if you want to refuse to take a business trip to an area where the virus is widespread.
- You may have a case if someone chose to have sexual contact with you while knowing they were infected with the virus. The same legal principle operates as if someone deliberately or negligently gave you an STD.
- You may have a case if a travel agent did not fully inform you of the risks before you traveled to an affected area and you purchased a trip from them.
- You may have a case if you are a health care worker and become infected with the virus after treating a patient with it.
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Have you traveled recently to an area where the Zika virus has been found, perhaps before the story became widespread in the U.S. media? If you have sustained injuries from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, or given birth to a child that has injuries you believe are due to the virus, the Louthian Law Firm stands ready to help you and your family. If you think you might have a case and you would like to explore your options, call the South Carolina personal injury lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm at (803) 454-1200, or use our online contact form.