Zika Virus: What You Need To Know

In May of 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) alerted the world of the first confirmed Zika virus infection found in Brazil. Although this syndrome has only minor affects on adults, it has let to severe birth defects in newborns whose mothers were infected with the virus. Since May, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued travel alerts for people interested in traveling to certain regions where the Zika virus is known to be transmitted. No local mosquito-borne virus cases have been reported in the US state, but there have been travel-associated cases. Cases of local mosquito-borne transmission have been reported in the US Territories of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and America Samoa.

There are three ways in which the Zika virus is transmitted to humans: mosquito bites, pregnant mother to child, and sexual transmission.

Mosquito Bites

The Zika virus is most commonly transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected female mosquito, the same of which are the species responsible for spreading dengue and chikungunya viruses.

Pregnant Mother to Child

Although in utero transmission is far less common than transmission through mosquito bites, the consequences are far more severe. There have not been any known reports of infants being infected through breastfeeding, and the CDC continues to encourage breastfeeding even in areas where the virus is found. It is not currently known for how long the virus can be transmitted from mother to child, but it is recommended that women not become pregnant for at least 28 days after the infection.

Sexual Transmission

It is possible for the Zika virus to be transmitted from a man to a woman through unprotected sexual contact. At the moment, it is not believed that the virus can be spread through saliva or kissing.

Symptoms

The symptoms of the Zika virus in adults are mild but include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). These symptoms may last from several days to a week. There is currently no vaccine to prevent the virus, and no medicine to treat the infection. Infected individuals are advised to rest, drink lots of fluids, take medicine such as acetaminophen to alleviate fever and pain (do not take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin), and if you are taking any other medicine consult with your doctor before taking additional medication.

Prevention

The best way to prevent infection is to take steps to avoid being bitten by a mosquito when traveling in countries where the Zika virus has been found. Mosquito bites can be avoided by wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, treating clothing with permethrin, staying in air conditioned buildings or ones that have windows and door screens, sleeping under a mosquito net, or using EPA registered insect repellents (not on children under 2 months of age). Avoid transmission from an infected person. For more information visit http://www.cdc.gov/zika/ or view the webinar by Dr. Spangler found at https://aig.webcasts.com/.