Since May of 2015 when the World Health Organization reported the first local transmission of the Zika virus in the Northern Hemisphere the cases have continued at an alarming rate. Though the United States does not have any local cases of the Zika virus at the moment, the virus has been reported in some travelers entering the U.S. from infected areas. Learn more about the virus and how this could affect those who are pregnant.
What is the Zika Virus
The Zika virus is a mosquito-born flavivirus. As of January 2016, we have seen outbreaks in Asia, Africa, South and Central Americas and islands in the Pacific. Though the cases of those infected are rising consistently, there are no hard numbers available on how many people have been affected to date.
Zika Virus Transmission
The Zika virus is transmitted through mosquito bites. These types of mosquitoes are called the Aedes species and are common around the world. Since they are found nearly everywhere, it is expected that cases will continue to rise and spread to new countries. This particular species of mosquitoes are active daytime biters who prefer to bite people. The mosquitoes become infected when biting individuals who are already infected from the virus and then those mosquitoes spread it to others.
Zika Virus Symptoms
When affected by the virus, typical symptoms include fever, joint pain, rash, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Muscle pain and headache can also occur. Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days. Symptoms of the virus are expected to last several days all the way up to a week with those severely affected needing to be hospitalized. Though symptoms may become severe, fatalities are rare. About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill.
Zika Virus and Pregnancy
What is concerning for many individuals, especially those who are pregnant, is that the Zika virus has been identified in tissues from infants with microcephaly in addition to fetal losses in women who were infected during their pregnancy. Though the Brazil Ministry of Health has announced a significant increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, it is unknown how many of these cases are associated with the Zika virus infection and which of these factors will boost the risk to the fetus.
The chances of the mother infecting the child with the Zika virus are slim. It is possible for mothers who have been infected to pass it to their child newborn during delivery, but there have been very few cases where this has happened. Additionally, there have been no cases of infants becoming infected with the virus through breastfeeding, and mothers who are located in highly infected areas are still encouraged to continue to breastfeed their child due to the numerous benefits.
Travel Advisory for Pregnant Women
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Level 2 - Practice Enhanced Precautions travel alert for countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname, and Venezuela. Pregnant women are being advised to stay away from traveling to these locations if possible. If travel is unavoidable, it is advised to take as many precautions as possible to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
The CDC has released guidelines for healthcare providers in the United States who are caring for pregnant women during the Zika virus outbreak to screen, test and manage returning pregnant travelers. It is important for all healthcare providers to ask their pregnant patients about any previous traveling and upcoming trips they may be taking.
For additional updates on the Zika virus infection, follow the CDC’s travel health notices.
Zika Virus Diagnosis
As of right now there is no test commercially available for the Zika virus. However, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider if you begin to experience symptoms similar to those stated above or have visited the locations where the Zika virus is prevalent. Additionally, if you are traveling to any of the destinations where it is common in the near future be sure to let your healthcare provider know beforehand.
Zika Virus Treatment
As of now there are no medications or vaccines available to treat or prevent the Zika virus infection. According to the CDC, ways that you can treat the symptoms include:
- Ensure you get plenty of rest
- Drink generous amounts of fluids to avoid dehydration
- To relieve the pain and/or fever take medications such as acetaminophen or paracetamol
- Avoid anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen and speak with your healthcare provider before taking any other medication
Currently Have the Zika Virus?
If you have been diagnosed with the Zika virus or are experiencing symptoms, avoid getting mosquito bites for the first week of the illness. It is during the first week of being infected that the infection can be found in the bloodstream and therefore possibly be passed to another individual if a mosquito bites you.
Zika Virus Prevention
Since there is no preventable drug for the Zika virus infection, the best thing you can do to actively prevent infection is to:
- Avoid mosquitos
- Make sure that you are using air conditioning or utilize door screens while indoors
- Use DEET/other effective mosquito repellents or for women who are currently pregnant, use Environmental Protection Agency registered repellent
Concerned About Your Health?
Reach out to your UnityPoint Clinic primary care provider or speak with your UnityPoint Clinic OB/GYN for further information if you are currently pregnant or plan to be in the near future.