While giving into a recent bout of hypochondria and Googling how concerned I should be about a list of cold symptoms, I stumbled on an unexpected autocomplete: How worried should I be about Zika?
As a reporter who covers tropical diseases, my search history is littered with Zika references, which could explain the algorithm's conclusion jump. But it made me wonder if other people had been searching this term, and what else they were asking Google about the mosquito-borne virus, which has led to more than 4,000 infections in the US. As the virus continues to spread and a potential second wave of infections could soon hit during the warmer rainy season in South America, Zika will continue to be an issue for months to come. So I asked Google: what do people want to know?
Here are top five most-searched Zika-related terms around the globe from the past year, according to a Google spokesperson, starting with the most-Googled question. Each question is answered by yours truly:
1. What is Zika virus?
Zika virus is a mosquito-spread viral infection. Mosquitoes spread the virus by biting infected people and then biting new, uninfected people, but it can also be sexually transmitted. It was first discovered in the 1940s but gained notoriety this year due to a massive outbreak in Latin America that showed the virus can cause serious birth defects, like microcephaly: a condition where the baby's head is smaller than usual, and the brain is often underdeveloped as a result.
2. Where is Zika virus?
As of October 20, Zika has been detected in 73 countries around the world, according to the World Health Organization. Latin America has been hit the hardest, but the disease has emerged locally (meaning people are getting infected by mosquitoes there, not traveling to other countries and bringing it home) in other areas including the United States, Singapore, and Fiji.
3. What are the symptoms of Zika virus?
The most common symptoms are a fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. Some people report muscle soreness and headache, as well. It's similar to the flu, but for the vast majority of people, 80 percent, Zika causes no symptoms at all. Of those who do get sick, it's usually mild.
4. What does Zika virus do?
For most people, Zika doesn't do anything. Some people may have a short illness with a fever and joint pain, but they'll recover in about a week. For pregnant women in their first trimester, however, Zika is serious because it can cause birth defects. Women are most at risk if they get infected during the first trimester of their pregnancy, but researchers estimate the risk is still low—anywhere from less than 1 percent to 13 percent.
5. Is Zika contagious?
No, Zika virus is not contagious the way the common cold is. You catch Zika by being bitten by an infectious mosquito, or through sexual transmission from an infected person. Zika can also be passed from mother to child in pregnant women, which is how the virus can cause birth defects. But if your roommate comes back from a trip to a Zika-infected area and has a fever, there's no need to quarantine him.