Dengue fever and Zika differ in the potentially serious complications that they can cause, however. For dengue, the complications include shock and bleeding, while Zika brings with it the risk of microcephaly, a congenital abnormality, in infants who are exposed to the virus in utero. The Medical Dictionary defines microcephaly as “An abnormally small head, which is usually associated with neurodevelopmental delay and mental retardation. A standard definition is any brain or head which is ≥ 3 standard deviations below the mean for a person’s age, sex, height, weight and race.”
Another neurological disorder associated with Zika is Guillain-Barré Syndrome, defined by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke as “a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The first symptoms of this disorder include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. In many instances, the symmetrical weakness and abnormal sensations spread to the arms and upper body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until certain muscles cannot be used at all and, when severe, the person is almost totally paralyzed.”
Most individuals affected by this virus do not experience severe symptoms, and there is no way to be sure that someone is infected or free of Zika without lab tests on blood, urine, saliva or semen. In most cases, someone who suspects a Zika infection should follow the normal treatment for colds and flus and consult a physician if symptoms worsen.
Nevertheless, the potential complications of a Zika infection are serious enough to warrant taking precautions against contracting the disease.