Zika Virus Alert

Zika virus disease (Zika) is a disease caused by the Zika virus, which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Zika virus is present in a number of countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America, as well as Mexico. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website, http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information, to determine where Zika virus is spreading. As of late May, the CDC has reported more than 500 travel-associated cases of Zika in the United States. 

Zika virus is an infection primarily spread to people through mosquito bites. Once a person is infected, the virus can spread through blood transfusion, through sexual contact and from mother to child.

What are the Symptoms of Zika Virus?

  1. Fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes).
  2. Note: most people (80%) with Zika virus infection actually have no symptoms.
  3. Few cases of severe illness and no deaths from Zika have been reported.

What are the Complications of Zika Virus?

Microcephaly. Recently, there have been reports of microcephaly in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. Microcephaly is a birth defect in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that haven't properly developed. This complication is the most serious concern about Zika virus, as most adults who get Zika either don’t get sick or they don’t have a prolonged or severe illness.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). While no clear causative relationship appears between Zika and GBS, there have been increased reports of GBS in people infected with Zika. GBS is an uncommon illness of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness, and sometimes, paralysis. These symptoms can last a few weeks or several months. Although most people fully recover from GBS, some people have permanent damage. CDC is working with Brazil to study the possibility of a link between Zika and GBS.

How is Zika Virus Infection Treated? Is There a Vaccine or Prophylaxis?

There is no vaccine to prevent or medication to treat Zika virus infection; however, the following steps can reduce the symptoms of Zika virus:

  1. Get plenty of rest.
  2. Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
  3. Take medicine, such as acetaminophen, to reduce fever and pain.
  4. Do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen/Advil/Motrin/Aleve).

What are the Recommended Precautions for Zika Virus?

  1. Use insect repellents on your skin and clothes
  2. Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants.
  3. Avoid sex or use condoms.
  4. Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window or door screens.
  5. Individuals who sustain mosquito bites in Zika endemic areas and/or who are actually symptomatic should continue to employ insect repellent in order to break the cycle of vector-borne transmission to others who may be unaffected. 

What Should Pregnant Women or Those Trying to Conceive Do? What About Men and Their Nonpregnant Sexual Partners?

Knowledge of the link between Zika virus and birth defects is evolving, but until more is known, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women.  Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to any area where Zika is spreading. If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your healthcare provider first, and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.

Male sexual partners of pregnant women are urged to use special precautions to prevent acquiring Zika when they travel and to prevent spreading Zika sexually.  While Zika virus usually remains in the blood for about a week, Zika has been found in semen longer. Therefore, the CDC recommends that men who reside in or have traveled to an area of active Zika virus transmission and who have pregnant partners should abstain from sexual activity or consistently and correctly use condoms during sex (i.e., vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, or fellatio) for the duration of the pregnancy.

Until more is known, CDC recommends that women trying to get pregnant and their male partners talk to their healthcare providers before traveling to areas with Zika. Because sexual transmission is possible, both men and women should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during these trips.

Men who have traveled to an area of active Zika virus transmission who are concerned about sexual transmission of Zika should consider abstaining from sexual activity or using condoms consistently and correctly during sex, including anal and oral sex.

Is There a Test for Zika? If so, who Gets Tested?

CDC recommends that all pregnant women who have traveled to a place with a Zika outbreak get tested. It is especially important for a pregnant woman to see a doctor if she develops a fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes during a trip or within two weeks after traveling to an area with Zika. For asymptomatic pregnant women, serologic testing can be offered 2–12 weeks after return from travel.

At this time, the CDC will not test samples from men, children and women who are not pregnant with only a positive travel history. Patients must have a positive travel history AND development of symptoms consistent with Zika within two weeks of travel in order for testing to be performed.

If you suspect that you have Zika virus infection, call or visit the Howard University Student Health Center at (202) 806-7540 or your primary care physician.

To learn more, go to http://www.cdc.gov/zika/disease-qa.html.

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