In late July 2016, the Zika virus was first identified as spreading within the continental United States. Most of the U.S. cases were recognized in those who traveled to a region with active Zika virus transmission. There are no treatments or vaccinations for the virus at this time. With the virus’ spread, comes the spread of several misconceptions, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) helps clarify.
- “If I’ve been to a Zika-related travel zone, I need to be tested for the Zika Virus.”
The CDC suggests only certain people need to be tested for the virus. That includes patients who experience Zika symptoms after being in an area with Zika, a pregnant woman who has traveled to a Zika infested area, whether that woman is showing symptoms or not.
- “It’s just a quick test, right?”
Once your provider helps determine if you need a test, it’ll take some time. According to the CDC, if Zika testing is needed, your doctor will get approval from the health department before collecting samples (blood, urine). The individual being tested will report to a laboratory to give the sample, and it’ll be sent to the health department. If the health department isn’t certified to do the testing, the sample will be sent to the CDC. The results will be sent to the provider, who will inform the patient. This process can take up to two weeks to complete.
- “If I haven’t shown Zika-related symptoms, then I’m safe.”
According to the CDC, only 20 percent of infected people show symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they are usually mild. Common symptoms include fever, headache, muscle ache, rash, joint pain and red eyes. If you do get symptoms, they usually appear within a few days of infection. If you are thinking about having a baby, talk to your primary care provider before trying to conceive.
- “Zika only spreads by mosquitoes.”
You can obtain the Zika virus from the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito or by having unprotected sex with a partner who has the virus, even if that partner doesn’t have symptoms. The CDC suggests pregnant women should abstain from sex or use condoms to reduce the chance of getting Zika from sex.
- “The virus is only dangerous to pregnant women.”
There is a scientific link between the Zika virus and birth defects in babies known as microcephaly. The CDC is also studying a possible link between Zika and Guillain-Barre syndrome, an uncommon sickness of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometime paralysis. These symptoms can last a few weeks or several months. Most people never fully recover.