When Chrissy Rutherford of New York City began having “weird muscle pain” in her legs after a Caribbean vacation, her mind didn’t immediately go to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
The 30-year-old senior digital editor for Harper’s Bazaar returned to N.Y.C. on June 1 after a trip to Kingston, Jamaica, and immediately began experiencing what she describes as “a charley horse pain” in her left thigh.
But then a lump formed behind her ear and a rash broke out on her face.
“[Zika] definitely had not crossed my mind until I started breaking out in a rash That’s when I was like ‘Okay, there’s definitely something wrong with me,’ ” Rutherford tells PEOPLE. “I was feeling really tired. I had plans to go out with a friend, but I had to cancel on her.
“I told her it’s hard to explain what’s going on with my body I have no idea.”
Rutherford says it first dawned on her that she might have Zika, while on a train ride to a wedding in Westchester, New York.
In an op-ed she penned for Harper’s Bazaar, the editor says she was taking a selfie when she noticed that her skin looked “unusually bumpy.”
“I was like ‘Oh my God, there’s really something wrong with me,’ ” she says. “I don’t ever get rashes.”
Rutherford confided in her friends about her hunch – but was met with laughter from pals who told her “not to be ridiculous!”
Rutherford called her mother, a nurse, who advised her to drink lots of water and get tested for Zika.
“When I was [in Jamaica], I was like, ‘What are the chances I would actually get [Zika],’ ” she says. “I had put bug spray on once or twice, but I wasn’t super vigilant about it, and I didn’t put any on during the daytime.”
Rutherford heeded her mother’s advice and sought immediate medical attention.
“They took a urine sample and two vials of blood to be tested,” she explains. “I spent a lot of that time reading information on the Internet. I was home and in bed for days. I was pretty certain that [Zika] was what I had.”
She adds, “I looked up the symptoms for other mosquito viruses that I could have. I knew that none of them were fatal and that there wasn’t even anything that I could take, so I just gave into the fact that I was going to be sick for a while.”
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A week later, Rutherford heard back from the doctors – she tested positive for Zika.
“In a way, I felt like, ‘Oh, okay, I wasn’t crazy!’ ” I did have this even though some of my friends thought it was something else,” she says. “I wasn’t too worried, because I’m not planning on having a baby anytime soon, so I know that the effects are a lot less scary for me.”
She pauses and adds, “There’s a lot they still don’t know.”
Rutherford’s symptoms have receded and she has returned to work.
“They say it only stays in your system for up to a week, so I technically don’t have it anymore,” she says. “It does suck and you feel terrible for a couple of days, but I think you just have to ride it out.
“It’s very frightening for those who are trying to get pregnant. There needs to be more education about what is going on.”
She advises anyone traveling outside of the United States to “read up” on the Zika virus.
“Everyone really needs to understand what [Zika] is,” she says. “That’s all you can do is really wear bug spray and make sure you are wearing the right one that can protect you from the mosquitos that spread the virus. I think it’s important to be informed.
For more information on effective bug sprays to protect you from Zika, click here.