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10 Things You Should Know About Zika

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has lifted its emergency response to the Zika virus, due to declining cases in the U.S.  However, does this mean you should still keep Zika in mind when making travel plans?  “The bottom line is, yes.  Americans, especially pregnant women, still need to take precautions to protect against Zika,” says Dr. Paul Mead, a medical officer in the CDC’s division of vector-borne diseases.

So what steps can you take to keep your family protected from contracting this problematic virus? 

What is the Zika virus and how is it transmitted? 
Since its arrival in Brazil years ago, the Zika virus continues to spread across the U.S. in areas such as Florida and Texas. The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne infection that is transmitted to people primarily through an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. The virus can also be passed from a person who has Zika to his or her sex partners, even if the person doesn’t have symptoms. The Zika virus can cause serious birth defects in unborn babies if the mothers were infected during pregnancy, according to the CDC.    

How can I protect myself and my loved ones from contracting the Zika virus?

  • According to the CDC, the best way to prevent Zika is to protect yourself from mosquito bites
  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Stay in places that are screened in or that have air conditioning
  • Remove standing water around your home (i.e. bird baths, empty water that may collect in your garbage cans, etc.  Mosquitoes like to breed in stagnant water)  

If I am pregnant or trying to conceive, should I be concerned about contracting Zika?
Yes. When pregnant women are infected with the Zika virus, the unborn baby is at risk for developing devastating birth defects such as microcephaly (more details below). If expecting couples live in or travel to areas with Zika, the CDC recommends that they use condoms every time they have oral, vaginal or anal sex, or should refrain from having sex during the pregnancy even if symptoms of Zika are not present. For couples who are planning on conceiving and are traveling to areas with Zika, the CDC recommends taking the following precautions upon returning:

  • If only the woman travels to a place where Zika is spreading – even if she doesn’t have symptoms of the disease – the couple should use condoms or not have sex for at least two months after travel.  
  • If the woman develops symptoms of the disease, the couple should use condoms for at least two months from the start of the symptoms. 
  •  If only the man is traveling to a place with Zika, the couple should use condoms or refrain from sex for at least six months after travel, or for at least six months from the start of the man’s symptoms if symptoms develop.  
  • If the couple travels together, the couple should use condoms or not have sex for at least six months after travel if they don’t have symptoms, or at least six months from the start of symptoms.

How does Zika affect pregnancies and babies?
Pregnant women or women who could become pregnant are warned by the CDC to stay away from areas where Zika is spreading. Zika is known to cause a range of birth defects, such as collapsed skulls, eye defects, and microcephaly.  Microcephaly occurs when a baby’s brain is not properly developed during pregnancy, causing the baby to be born with an abnormally small head. Microcephaly has been linked to the following issues:

  • Seizures
  • Developmental delays, such as speech or sitting, walking, etc.
  • Intellectual disability
  • Problems with movement and balance
  • Feeding problems  
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision problems

I’m pregnant and may have been exposed to the Zika virus.
Pregnant women who may have been exposed to the Zika virus are advised to consult with their Women’s Health CT provider. They may have to have regular scans to see if the fetus has been affected. Any babies who may be affected by Zika may need an ultrasound or CT scan to monitor for birth defects.  

How long is the window for sexual transmission of Zika? 
We understand that Zika can remain in the semen longer than in other body fluids, like vaginal fluids, urine, or blood. The good news is, a recent study determined that the window of sexual transmission for Zika may be shorter than previously thought. However, the CDC recommends that people still need to be cautious about preventing Zika, especially if they are pregnant or trying to conceive.     

How do I know if I have contracted the Zika virus?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 80% of people who become infected never have symptoms. But for those people who do, symptoms may include:

  • Fever and rash
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Headache
  • Pain behind the eyes and conjunctivitis (itchy, red eyes)

If you have traveled to a Zika affected area and are concerned, you may have a test conducted to determine if you have the virus.  Be sure to speak to your Women’s Health CT provider for more information. 

I am planning a vacation.  How can I find a Zika-free travel zone?
The CDC offers recommendations on Zika-free travel zones across the world. You can search by destination. If you are pregnant or planning to conceive, the CDC does not advise traveling to areas where the Zika virus is spreading. Remember to consult with your Women’s Health CT provider before travel.

Should I be concerned about Zika in the United States?
According to the CDC, many areas in the U.S. contain the type of mosquitoes that can become infected and spread the Zika virus. Zika has been reported in the continental U.S. (Miami-Dade County, Florida and Brownsville, Texas). Click here for CDC travel guidelines for these areas.

Is there a cure for Zika?
At this time, there is no cure for a Zika infection. However, research is underway for a Zika vaccine, according to the FDA. If you have questions or concerns about the Zika virus, please contact your Women’s Health CT provider or visit the CDC's website.

 

Sources:

Sifferlin, Alexandra, “Do I Still Need to Worry About Zika?” time.com, April 17, 2018.
Zika Virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html

 

 

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