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How Dangerous is Zika Virus for Older Adults?


With ten mosquito-borne cases of Zika virus identified this past weekend, Governor Rick Scott has asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to activate an emergency response effort in South Florida. Previous cases of the Zika virus were believed to have come from travelers who were bitten abroad. The Florida Department of Health now believes that more than a dozen cases may have been contracted directly from mosquito bites. Health officials have been going door-to-door in the Wynwood Art District of Dade County collecting samples in a proactive effort to reduce the likelihood of a major outbreak of the disease.

Many people infected with the disease do not notice symptoms, which can include fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes and headache. As is true with many diseases, there is however, added concern for those identified as high risk including pregnant women (or those trying to get pregnant), infants, small children, the elderly and anyone with compromised or weakened immune system. Earlier this year the CDC confirmed that there is a higher risk of older adults developing Guillain-Barre syndrome after being infected by the Zika virus. Although symptoms typically last for only a few weeks, some may develop long-term nerve damage that can lead to death.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disorder that causes an individual's own immune system to damage nerve cells leading to muscle weakness, loss of reflexes, numbness, tingling or partial paralysis. Since there is no vaccine to prevent the Zika virus and no drug to treat it, the CDC has warned that it is essential for people in a higher risk group to avoid mosquito bites, especially if they live or travel to areas where the disease is spreading. To limit exposure, seniors should dress in long clothes, use a good insect repellant, use mosquito netting when working outdoors and have someone help with destroying possible breeding grounds around their home.

If you are responsible for providing senior care, it is important to check each day for signs of mosquito bites and/or symptoms of the Zika virus. Other helpful tips for seniors include staying current on vaccinations, eating balanced meals and staying active. Should you notice flu-like symptoms seek immediate medical attention. For companion care or skilled at-home nursing care in Jacksonville, call All At Home Care at 904-551-6942, or use this website's convenient form for a prompt email response.

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