Zika Virus Q&A

AUGUST 24, 2016

There has been a lot of news about the Zika virus lately. Texas Health Care physicians want you to have the most up-to-date and accurate information about Zika, and have put together this Q&A based on research and recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC):

Q: What is Zika virus?

Zika virus is spread primarily through mosquito bites. It usually causes mild symptoms, if any; many people who are infected will experience no symptoms at all. However, Zika can cause serious birth defects, so women who are pregnant or may become pregnant must take special care to protect themselves from Zika.

Q:  What are the symptoms of Zika virus?

Zika can cause mild symptoms, including fever, rash, joint pain, muscle pain, conjunctivitis, and headache. These symptoms can last for up to one week.  However, many people will never experience any symptoms at all.

Q:  What is the risk to pregnant women? 

Zika virus can cause serious problems for pregnant women and women who may become pregnant. The virus is associated with a birth defect known as microcephaly, in which the baby’s head is smaller than it should be and the brain may be underdeveloped. Zika can cause other birth defects, including other brain abnormalities, eye problems, hearing loss and impaired growth. A Zika infection does not automatically mean these things will happen, but it does increase the risk. As a precaution, all pregnant women should be evaluated for possible Zika exposure at every pre-natal care visit.   

Q:  How does someone get Zika virus?

Zika is usually transmitted through the bite of an Aedes species mosquito, known for aggressive biting during daytime hours, although it can also bite at night. Zika can also be transmitted through sex.

Q:  Is there a cure or vaccine for Zika virus?

Not at this time.

Q: Where is the Zika virus in the United States? 

As of August 29, 2016, the only confirmed cases of an original transmission – that is, a Zika infection through a mosquito bite – in the continental Unites States have been in two areas of Miami-Dade County, Florida.

The only Texas cases that have been reported to date involve people who recently traveled to an area in which Zika is present or have had sex with someone who was infected.

Q: How do I protect myself from mosquitos carrying Zika virus?

If you are pregnant, do not travel to an area in which Zika transmissions have been reported. Check the CDC website for countries, territories, and cities affected by Zika before planning travel.

When outdoors, you should use an insect repellant registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which contains one of these ingredients:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)/para-menthane-diol (PMD)
  • IR3535.

NOTE: Do not use insect repellants on babies under two months old and do not use repellents containing OLE or PMD on children under three years of age.

Keep in mind, even though Zika transmissions from mosquitos have not been reported in Texas, it’s always a good idea to use insect repellant – it will help protect you from West Nile Virus, also.

If you’re spending time outdoors, treat clothes and gear with permethrin.  You can also purchase items pre-treated with permethrin.

Eliminate opportunities for mosquitos to breed near your house by turning over any pots or containers that hold standing water and filling in low spots.

Q:  How do I protect myself from Zika during sex? 

Zika can be transmitted through sex, and people who have traveled to an area with Zika, or who are partners with someone who has, need to take extra precautions. Even if the person who has traveled has not been diagnosed with Zika and is not experiencing symptoms, the CDC advises:

  • If your partner is pregnant, use a condom during all types of sex (including vaginal, oral and anal sex) for the entire duration of the pregnancy or abstain from sex throughout the pregnancy.
  • If you and your partner are planning a pregnancy: visit with your physician first.

If you or your partner are not pregnant and not planning a pregnancy, precautions are still advisable.  For those who have symptoms or have been diagnosed, the CDC suggests men use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after symptoms began.  Women should consider using condoms or abstaining for eight weeks after symptoms began.

For men and women who have traveled to a Zika area but have not been diagnosed or shown any symptoms, the CDC suggests using condoms or abstaining for eight weeks after travel.

Texas Health Care physicians are here to answer your questions about Zika virus and hope you have found this information to be helpful.  For the latest information on Zika, including travel advisories, be sure to also check the CDC Zika website, as well.

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