Should I be Worried About the Zika Virus?

a doctor holding a virus

Zika virus has received a lot of media attention over the last few months due to recent outbreaks of the virus in Latin American countries. To date, there have been no locally-acquired cases in the U.S., but there have been reports of travel-associated acquired cases in the U.S. and locally acquired cases in U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and American Samoa.

You may have questions about the virus and concerns about your risk of transmission. Here is some information that may be helpful in addressing those questions and concerns.

About Zika Virus

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), Zika is a virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The illness is usually mild, with common symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes) lasting about one week. Usually, people do not get sick enough to go to the hospital and rarely die from Zika. Once a person has been infected, they are protected from future infections.

Transmission and Risks

People residing in areas where the Aedes species mosquito lives, or who travel to these areas, are at risk of Zika. Sexual transmission of Zika virus from a male partner is possible.

Zika poses some significant health risks for pregnant women. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection with Zika during pregnancy is also linked to a serious birth defect in babies, called microcephaly, as well as other problems such as poorly developed brain structures, hearing or eye defects and impaired growth.

The Brazil Ministry of Health has reported an increased number of people who have been infected with Zika virus who also have Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rare disease of the nervous system in which one’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. GBS is very likely triggered by Zika in a small proportion of infections, as is often the case after a variety of other infections.

The CDC is working with the Brazil to investigate this link.

Prevention and Control

The mosquito that spreads Zika is found throughout the tropics, making it likely that outbreaks will continue. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika or medicine to treat Zika infection; therefore, treatment involves treating the symptoms (fever, joint pain, etc.).

The best prevention is protection from mosquito bites. This includes wearing long sleeves and pants; treating clothing with permethrin (insect-repellant intended for clothing); using window and door screens to keep mosquitos out; staying in places with air conditioning; and using Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellant and reapplying as appropriate.

Because sexual transmission of Zika virus from a male partner is possible, condom use is recommended for male sex partners who live in or travel to an area with Zika. For pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant, the CDC recommends condom use for male sex partners who live in or travel to an area with Zika; restricting or delaying travel to areas where Zika is spreading; or talking with your doctor about your risk if you must travel to one of these areas.

CDC Response and Monitoring

The CDC is tracking the spread of Zika virus by training scientists and epidemiologists to find and report the virus; training healthcare providers to identify Zika; investigating the links between Zika and birth defects; educating the public about prevention and transmission; and issuing travel advisories for areas with Zika.

For more information about Zika, speak with your healthcare provider or visit the CDC website.

Grand Canyon University’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions’ mission is to advance healthcare by preparing students to promote health and wellness for best patient outcomes. Visit the GCU website for more information.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.