Zika Virus: FAQs

Suddenly Zika virus is making big headlines and all healthcare providers should pay attention. This virus is really a big deal, especially for women.

Take a few minutes to read these FAQs, so you can educate your patients:

What is Zika virus?

It’s a member of the flavivirus family; it’s related to West Nile, dengue, and yellow fever. Just as with its “cousins,” it is spread by mosquitoes. For Zika virus, the Aedes mosquito is the carrier.

What are the symptoms?

Most people don’t know they’ve been infected. Only 20% will develop any symptoms: fever, rash, joint pain, headaches, or red eyes (conjunctivitis). These symptoms develop within 2-7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, and resolve within a week.

Where did Zika start?

Zika is not a new virus. It was first identified in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947. From there it has been found in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, but without any of the current devastating pregnancy outcomes.

What do you mean by “devastating pregnancy outcomes”?

Since spreading to South and Central America, Zika has developed into the “Brazilian strain” which has caused 3900 babies to be born with microcephaly; the usual number should be 150. Experts say it is a 1900% increase over the expected rate. Increased miscarriages and in-utero deaths have also been reported.

What is microcephaly?

Microcephaly is a neurological disorder that results in a small brain and skull. Babies born with microcephaly often have severe developmental problems, with a poor chance of normal brain function. Only 15% of microcephalics have a normal IQ. Seizures and uncontrolled arm and leg movements (spasticity) are common. There is no specific treatment; children are managed according to their symptoms, with a reduced life expectancy.

Which countries are reporting Zika virus cases?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report cases of Zika in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

What about in the United States?

As of late January 2016, the CDC has confirmed about 12 cases in the U.S. Residents of Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Texas who have traveled to countries with Zika have tested positive for the virus. However, warm weather can hasten the spread of the virus, starting in the Gulf Coast states and expanding north.

What can women do to avoid becoming infected?

Everyone is susceptible to Zika virus. Women who are in any stage of pregnancy, or planning to get pregnant, should not travel to any country reporting Zika infections. The CDC updates Travel Health Notices on its website: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices. No matter where a woman travels, she should check the website for the latest information and warnings.

Should everyone wear insect repellent?

Yes! Aedes mosquitoes are tiny and aggressive. They bite during the day, anywhere humans reside. Whether in a city or a rural area, wear protective clothing. This means long pants and sleeves. Apply repellent after sunscreen, before going out and then every 8 hours.
The CDC recommends “DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products to provide long lasting protection.”

What about the Olympics in Rio de Janiero?

Many people are concerned about the risks of a possible Zika outbreak or epidemic for travelers to Brazil. Besides microcephaly, Brazil has had a dramatic increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which also seems to be related to Zika virus. Olympic officials have released an extensive plan for pest control, starting four months before the games. However, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy are advised to avoid travel to Brazil.