There's been much in the news lately about the Zika Virus, especially its effects on pregnant women. Already, I've been receiving calls in my office about whether it's safe to travel. Here, I hope to explain a little more about what's going on...
On Friday last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released an official health advisory urging all pregnant women to avoid travel to certain areas to avoid infection with the Zika virus....
Today, I want to explain what this is, where it is, and how it can affect people, especially during pregnancy.
The Zika (pronounced ZEE-kuh) virus was first reported in Brazil in May of last year. Prior to that, it was found only in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Over the past several months, the virus has spread to a larger area, now including Mexico, Central America, and much of South America.
Zika virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. As of now, the United States does NOT have infected mosquitoes. There are reports of pregnant women in the U.S. who are affected by Zika but they had recently traveled to areas where it is prevalent. The virus is NOT spread through human contact.
Not everyone who gets infected gets symptoms. Only about 20% of infected people notice things such as fever, rash, joint aches, or pink eye, which typically start about 2 weeks after being exposed. Usually symptoms are mild and last for up to a week. Most people recover fully without problems.
The big problem is that if a pregnant woman gets the virus, it can cause miscarriage. It can also cause the baby to have microcephaly, which means that its head is too small.
Microcephaly can be associated with seizures, developmental delays, problems with vision, hearing, movement, and intellectual disability.
The only way to prevent Zika virus infection at this time is to avoid traveling to areas where the disease is present. For this reason, the CDC has recommended that pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant not travel to areas where the disease is prevalent. For now, this includes Mexico, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Martinique, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela.
If travel is necessary, you should do everything possible to prevent mosquito bites. This includes using insect repellants, wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants, keeping windows closed or open with a screen, using mosquito nets, and remove any standing water from around you.
At this time, there is no commercial testing available for the virus. Testing can be done through the CDC if infection is suspected.
There is no treatment for Zika. Supportive care, including rest, fluids, and use of acetaminophen (Tylenol) is recommended. Most people recover fully and hospitalization is usually not necessary.
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant soon, the best bet for avoiding infection is to stay away from those areas where Zika has been found in mosquitos.
Much more information can be found at the following sites: