Public Health Topics
Health Update: Zika Virus

UPDATED 8/1/16

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an alert for travel to areas where Zika virus is spreading. Travelers who are pregnant or considering pregnancy should consult a doctor. Find the latest information from the CDC here.

Zika and birth defects
Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus and can cause a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies of women who had Zika virus while pregnant. Other problems have been detected among fetuses and infants infected with Zika virus before birth, such as absent or poorly developed brain structures, defects of the eye, hearing deficits and impaired growth. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends special precautions for pregnant women. Women who are pregnant should not travel to areas with Zika. If you must travel to one of these areas or if you live in an area with Zika, talk to your healthcare provider and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and to prevent sexual transmission.

If you have Zika, protect others from getting sick:

  • During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.
  • To help prevent others from getting sick, take precautions to avoid mosquito bites during the first week of illness.
  • Zika virus can be spread during sex by a man infected with Zika to his sex partners.
  • We do not know how long the virus is present in the semen of men who have had Zika, however, we do know that the virus can stay in semen longer than in blood.
  • To help prevent spreading Zika from sex, you can use condoms the right way every time you have sex. This includes vaginal, anal and oral (mouth-to-penis) sex. Not having sex is the best way to be sure that someone does not get sexually transmitted Zika virus.

Protect Yourself: Proper Application of Insect Repellent

  • Apply sunscreen BEFORE using insect repellent.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 on all exposed skin.
  • When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention resources:

At A Glance – Zika in the U.S. (as of July 27, 2016)

U.S. States

Locally acquired mosquito-borne cases reported: 1
Travel-associated cases reported: 1,658
Laboratory acquired cases reported:  1
Total: 1,658
Sexually transmitted: 15
Guillain-Barré syndrome: 5

U.S. Territories

Locally acquired cases reported: 4,729
Travel-associated cases reported: 21
Total: 4,750*
Guillain-Barré syndrome: 17

What is Zika virus?
A disease caused by the Zika virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Mosquitos become infected when they bite a person already infected with the virus. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her fetus during her pregnancy or around the time of birth.

This is not a new virus – outbreaks of Zika previously have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Zika virus likely will continue to spread to new areas.

What are the symptoms of Zika virus?
The symptoms vary, but primarily include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

The illness is usually mild, with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and very rarely die of Zika.

What are the potential risks associated with Zika virus?
There have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika Virus while pregnant. Knowledge of the link between Zika and these outcomes is evolving; the CDC recommends special precautions for the following groups:

  • Women who are pregnant (in any trimester)
  • Women who are trying to become pregnant

Prevention
During the first week of a Zika infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another person through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people. It is also possible to spread the Zika virus through blood and bodily fluids (oral, anal, vaginal sex).

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika. The best way to prevent diseases spread by mosquitoes is to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites.

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents.

If you have a baby or child:

  • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months of age.
  • Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs, or cover crib, stroller and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
  • Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth and cut or irritated skin. Spray insect repellent onto your hands then apply to a child’s face.

Adults:

  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or buy permethrin-treated items.
  • Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.

Treatment
There is no vaccine or specific medicine to treat Zika virus infections. Treat the symptoms:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Take medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain, but do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Sources and Additional Resources:
Centers For Disease Control & Prevention: Zika Virus
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Questions and Answers: Zika virus infection (Zika) and pregnancy
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Travel Advisories
World Health Organization (WHO)
Pan American Health Organization
Time Health, “Zika’s Rapid Spread Explained in 3 GIFs”
USA Today, “What travelers need to know about the Zika virus”
The New York Times, “Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika Virus”
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Find the Insect Repellent that is Right for You”