The Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease, was recently declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus has spread to more than two dozen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The United States has primarily seen Zika in travelers returning from affected countries.
On Feb. 11, Maryland health officials said a resident who recently traveled in a country where the mosquito-transmitted illness is rampant tested positive for the virus after returning home.
Here are some important questions and answers about Zika to protect yourself and your family.
What is the Zika virus and how is it transmitted?
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus primarily transmitted to people through the bite of the Aedes species mosquito. The virus has also been reported to spread through blood transfusion and sexual contact. There is no evidence of transmission to healthcare workers during routine care delivery.
What are the symptoms?
About one in five affected people will develop mild symptoms that may include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain and headache. Symptoms typically last for several days to a week. Severe symptoms requiring hospitalization are not common.
How long does Zika stay in the body?
Research is still being conducted to better understand Zika, but the virus is thought to remain in the body for a couple of weeks. Once a person has been infected, they will likely be protected from future infections.
How is Zika diagnosed?
Blood tests can determine whether someone has the Zika virus. Consult with your healthcare provider if you develop symptoms and have recently traveled to an area where Zika is found.
How does Zika affect pregnant women?
At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not know the risk to an infant if a woman is infected with Zika virus while she is pregnant. The disease is suspected of causing severe birth defects, such as microcephaly, a condition associated with small, underdeveloped brains. However, additional studies are needed to learn more about the connection between Zika and risks to pregnant women.
Because of the risk thought to be primarily to unborn babies and until more is known, the CDC advises pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant to postpone travel to countries with Zika outbreaks. If travel is unavoidable, consult with your healthcare provider. For more information visit the CDC’s website.
Is there a way to prevent becoming infected?
There are currently no approved vaccines to prevent Zika virus infections. The most effective way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites. When traveling to countries affected by Zika, make sure to use mosquito repellent, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts and stay indoors with air conditioning when possible.
What treatments are available?
There are currently no approved medications to treat Zika virus infections. There are some infections which have symptoms similar to Zika also from the same area of the world. It is important to consult with your healthcare provider if you develop symptoms following travel to an area where Zika is found.
For additional information and up-to-date developments on the Zika virus, please visit the CDC’s website.