Painful Symptoms Persist After Zika Virus Infection, Virginia Woman Says

PHOTO: Heather Baker said she has had long-lasting symptoms related to the Zika virus.PlayABC News
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A Virginia woman recounted her painful ordeal with the Zika virus and said she still has some lingering symptoms related to the earlier infection.

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Heather Baker told ABC News that she is still dealing with health issues after being diagnosed with the Zika virus earlier this year.

Baker was diagnosed after going on a mission trip to Guatemala in November, according to ABC affiliate WHSV-TV.

“After I got home from my trip, I discovered as swollen lymph node on this side of my head and so I just knew immediately that my body was fighting something,” Baker told WHSV-TV.

She was tested for multiple diseases, including the tropical disease Chikungunya, but none of those tests turned up positive. She then heard about the Zika virus and was tested for that virus.

“When [the Chikungunya test] came back negative, by that point, I had heard the name Zika, and I was like, ‘I think that’s what it is,’” Baker said.

While the symptoms of the Zika virus generally last less than a week, Baker said some of her symptoms have persisted for nearly eight weeks.

“There are a lot of unknowns right now and we are just doing the best we can with what we have, and my hope is that there’s someone out there somewhere who has studied this,” Baker told WHSV-TV.

Baker declined to speak in detail to ABC News, due to feeling ill. She did say she wanted to share her story to encourage other people to take precautions when visiting Zika-affected countries.

The Zika virus usually results in mild symptoms including fever, rash and fatigue that rarely last longer than a week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus has been associated with a worrying rise in a birth defect called microcephaly in Brazil.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said there may be multiple reasons that Baker has continued to have symptoms weeks after the virus. He explained that she may have unknowingly had a complication or a secondary infection that caused her symptoms to worsen.

"I haven’t heard of anything like this," Schaffner said. "I’m not sure how long and which symptoms have persisted. But everything is possible and some things are very common and some things are unusual."

He said another possibility is that Baker had an inflammatory immune response where she felt symptoms long after the virus has left her body.

"We don’t know if the virus can persist or if it can set up an inflammatory response that can continue to make you ill for a period of time," he explained.