What it’s like to get Zika
You’ve definitely heard of this virus transmitted through mosquitoes; in 2016 it blew up into a global threat in Africa, South Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific Islands, and South America. Famously it can have grim effects on fetuses, but if you’re not pregnant, you’re likely to come through it relatively easily.
Hayley Milliman, a writer, says she was on a family vacation to Mexico when she got Zika. Thankfully, she wasn’t pregnant nor trying to get pregnant, so her doctor assured her Zika is actually “not that big of a deal.” After nine months to a year, it is safe for her to try to get pregnant.
Symptoms: “I got a bunch of mosquito bites [in Mexico], and I didn’t think twice about it. But when I got home, I got a skin rash and fever and went to the doctor, not even thinking it was Zika,” Milliman says. The rash can look like inflammation or hives. Other symptoms include: headache, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), and muscle pain. Infection during pregnancy can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other truly awful stuff.
How to treat it: Milliman says she has sensitive skin and figured if she didn’t get steroids, the rash would take forever to go away, so she went to a doctor who tested her for Zika. “I didn’t take any medicine, because my doctor said I’d probably be fine,” she says. “So, I just took steroids for the rash.” If you’re pregnant, your healthcare provider may be able to provide an antibody that researchers believe helps fight the Zika infection.
How to avoid it: Bug repellent with DEET should be your religion. You can also get Zika through sex with an infected person, so use protection. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, it might be smart to avoid areas where Zika is common. Pregnancy suppresses your immune system, so if you’re with child, you’re extra likely to contract a virus. Ugh, being a woman should be a tax write-off.
What it’s like to get dengue
Another virus transmitted via mosquitoes, Dengue is endemic in Puerto Rico, Latin America, Southeast Asia and around the Pacific islands. Something like 3 million people a year get the infection, including a few thousand in the United States. Daniel Perez, a nurse, noticed symptoms of dengue when he was 15 years old living in Puerto Rico.
Symptoms: Perez says he was running a fever at school and was sent home, where his mom “noticed red spots on the inside of my elbows and immediately took me to the emergency room.” Apparently, red spots or patches on the skin are a tell-tale sign it’s dengue. Other symptoms include the flu, joint pain, black, tar-like stools, pale and clammy skin, vomiting blood, and bleeding from gums and nose. From that menu, I’ll take the red spots.
How to treat it: Since it’s a virus, there’s not much you can do besides stay hydrated and try to boost your immune system. Avoid ibuprofen and aspirin. Perez stayed in the hospital for a few days, where he received an IV drip of vitamin C and other medications to help him bounce back.
How to avoid it: There’s no vaccine, but again: douse yourself in bug repellent. Slather it on. Put it in your AC vents. Take a bubble bath in it. Go nuts.
Have I sufficiently horrified you? Remember that one of the most important ways you can stay healthy abroad is to keep your immune system in tip-top shape. Try echinacea, vitamin C, Counter Attack, or whatever immune booster you prefer. Get enough sleep, stay hydrated (with bottled water!), and don’t forget that even brushing your teeth with sink water can get you infected. Don’t eat snow. And if you do shit your pants, know that I still love you.