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The Facts About Zika: What you need to know May 20, 2016

What is Zika Virus Disease? Zika virus disease (Zika) is a disease caused by the Zika virus, which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. It has also occasionally been spread through sexual intercourse with an individual with the active infection, and it may be spread through direct blood to blood contact. It is not spread by coughing, sneezing, touching an infected person, etc. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

What are the main concerns with Zika Virus Disease?

There are two main complications causing concern with Zika virus.

First, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microencephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. With microencephaly, the baby’s brain does not fully develop and is much smaller than usual. Thus, pregnant women, and those planning to become pregnant should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites, travel to infected areas, or having unprotected intercourse with individuals that might be currently infected.

Second, there have been some reports of possible Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) occurring in a few patients who had Zika virus infections. GBS is an uncommon illness of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. It is believed to be triggered by a variety of inflammatory conditions, including being associated with many types of viral infections such as influenza. About 1-2 cases of GBS will occur for every 100,000 people in the US each year. As expected, there is some evidence that Zika virus may trigger GBS.

How can I prevent getting Zika Virus?

The Zika virus outbreak is currently occurring primarily throughout Mexico, Central America, and the northern aspect of South America in areas where mosquitos are common. It is believed that Zika will spread to the U.S. and other countries this spring or summer.

Individuals who become infected are not a serious problem. We expect they will get well. The main issue is if an infected individual then is bitten by a mosquito, that mosquito can transmit the virus to another person. This is probably how it will spread in the U.S.

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus, but once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections once they fully recover from the illness. Additionally, once the person is recovered, they no longer have the virus in their body and cannot transmit the virus to other humans or mosquitos.

The primary preventive measures relate to restricting travel to affected areas, the management of mosquitos, and the taking of precautions to protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Americans familiar with West Nile precautions should protect themselves by clearing standing water and using repellants.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides advice on how to avoid mosquito bites on their website at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/index.html.

  • Pregnant woman, and those planning to become pregnant in the near future, should avoid travel to areas with active Zika virus infections if possible.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay inside away from mosquitos and make sure open doors or windows have fully functioning screens to prevent mosquitos entering the home.
  • Take steps to control mosquitos such as the removal of standing water and spraying for mosquitos.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellants that contain one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellants are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women, according to the CDC.
  • Note, do not use insect repellant on babies younger than 2 months and do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years.

Additional Information

The best source of up to date information and substantial more information about Zika virus can be found at the CDC website, at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.