Zika Virus: What We Need to Know


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Article updated 2/19/16

There has been a lot of coverage on the Zika virus in the news lately. While some has been informative and insightful, some has been sensationalized and downright scary. Here is the latest on what we know and what you can — and need — to do.

A Few Facts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  • Only 20 percent of people infected with Zika will get sick from the virus.
  • Those who do get sick will typically experience mild symptoms, such as fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis, for a few days to about a week, with no need for hospitalization or specialized care. Deaths are extremely rare.
  • Treatment includes rest, plenty of fluids and acetaminophen for fever and joint pain.
  • The Zika virus remains in the infected persons blood for about a week.
  • The Zika virus is typically spread through Aedes aegypti mosquitos, with Aedes genus also capable of spreading the virus.
  • The Zika virus can spread from mother to fetus.
  • There is no vaccine for the Zika virus.

Why All The Worry?

As outlined in recent Washington Post article, it is what the medical community does not know for sure that has entities like the World Health Organization (WHO) clamoring to find answers. Here’s what they want to find out:

Does Zika cause microcephaly in newborns? An uptick in cases in Brazil coinciding with the most current Zika outbreak is cause for concern.

Does Zika cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) in newborns? A surge in cases in South America since the Zika outbreak are also being studied.

Are other birth defects possible?

Can Zika be transmitted through sexual contact, saliva or blood transfusions?

Because it only lasts in the blood for about a week and 80 percent of those infected do not know they were infected because they do not experience symptoms, there is an urgency to find answers to these questions as means to prevent the birth defects that Zika may be causing.

US Cases

According to the CDC, less than 100 cases of Zika have been confirmed in the US. All 52 cases were travel-related, meaning that the virus was not contracted in the US, but rather while the travelers were abroad. NC's first travel-related case of Zika virus was recently confirmed

What Can We Do?

The CDC suggests that travelers visiting to countries where the virus exists wear long sleeves and long pants, use mosquito nets while asleep, stay in places with screens on doors and windows and use insect repellents. When using repellent and sunscreen, apply the sunscreen first. For a list of countries where Zika virus is active, visit the CDC website.

For pregnant women, the CDC recommends not traveling to any place where the Zika virus is active. There are EPA-registered insect repellents that are safe to use during pregnancy. If you have been to an infected country and want to become pregnant, consult with your healthcare provider regarding exposure to the Zika virus.

Since there is potential for the mosquitos that carry the Zika virus to spread as far north as the Southern US, keeping all mosquito populations down is good practice. Click here for 5 Ways to Protect Your Family From Mosquitos.

Bottom Line

The Zika virus may pose its biggest threat to the developing fetus. Therefore, if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, be diligent about both you and your partner avoiding travel to affected areas, limit exposure to mosquitos, incorporate preventive measures when it comes to mosquito bites and communicate with your doctor about the Zika virus and its potential impact.

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