26 May Zika Virus: What You Really Need to Know
The media has been abuzz with news regarding the Zika virus. With mounting concern and spreading of the disease, there’s a lot of information out there. So how do you know what the most up to date information is?
As you probably already know, the Zika virus is spread primarily by the bite of an infected mosquito. For the most part, the illness in and of itself is usually pretty mild with symptoms like fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), usually lasting anywhere from a few days to a week.
Fact: There have been no mosquito borne cases of Zika virus reported in the United States. However, the number of outbreaks indicates the number of cases among travelers is only going to increase.
“We continue to be learning about Zika virus every day,” says Dr. Dimple Damani. She goes on to warn, “While we absolutely hope we don’t see transmission in the continental U.S., we need to be ready for that. The CDC is working hard to escalate its research on the virus.”
So what does this mean for you right now?
Well, that all depends. If you are a healthy adult, male or female, you should take precautions if traveling to infected areas to reduce your risk of exposure. The simplest precautions are wearing long sleeve clothing, pants, and socks, as well as wearing insect repellent containing 20% DEET. As of now, these areas include: the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific Islands, and South America. For a comprehensive list of specific places affected by Zika, please visit the CDC’s website here. If you are pregnant, this is where things get tricky, and varying information might leave you confused.
Zika has been linked to serious birth defects in infants whose mothers contracted the virus while pregnant. Microcephaly is a serious birth defect of the brain that has been linked to Zika. Other problems that have been reported with fetuses and infants who were infected with Zika before birth are poorly developed brain structures, defects of the eyes, hearing deficits, and impaired growth. So the big question is, what does this mean for pregnant women?
“The bottom line is, if you are pregnant, you should not be traveling to areas where Zika is present,” says Dr. Damani. “No amount of precautions can guarantee you immunity from contracting the virus.” The CDC instructs travelers to “not allow mosquitoes to bite you” when visiting areas infected by Zika. Anyone who has been outside in the summer knows that there is no such thing as “not allowing a mosquito to bite you”! Although, we sure wish we could turn to a swarm of those pesky insects and say “you are not allowed to bite me!” after which they would fly away! If you are pregnant and cannot avoid traveling to an infected area, contact your healthcare provider before traveling to ensure you are taking as many precautions as possible. If you are planning to become pregnant soon after traveling to an affected area, plan to delay your pregnancy to avoid any risks of exposure.
You can find more information about the Zika virus from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/zika.