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Answering your questions about Zika

Due to the recent news reports of Zika virus infection, we at MotherToBaby Arizona and the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy have put together some helpful answers to common questions. While information is currently limited and changing rapidly, we are happy to share what we know.

I keep hearing about the Zika virus on the news.  What is the Zika virus?

Zika virus was first identified in Africa in 1947. It is a virus in the same family as dengue and chikungunya. In 2013, there were outbreaks of Zika virus in islands in the Pacific. Outbreaks have been reported since the spring of 2016 in Central and South America, as well as Mexico. Recently, traveled-related cases have been also reported in many U.S. states and territories.

As of Feb. 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Zika "a public health emergency of international concern."

IS ZIKA IN THE UNITED STATES?

As of Aug. 1, 2016, there are over 1,600 people who have travel-associated and/or sexually transmitted Zika virus in the US.

On Aug.1, 2016, health officials in Florida reported 14 locally transmitted cases of Zika. Right now, there is limited information available about these cases. It is suspected that additional local clusters of cases of Zika virus from people being bit by mosquitos in other parts of the US will be identified. The most likely transmission will occur when a mosquito bites an infected person and then transfers the virus by biting another person. Sexual transmission is also of concern.

The Red Cross will test blood donations for Zika virus in areas that are believed to be at greatest risk of local Zika virus mosquito transmission, including Arizona.

How do people get Zika?

Zika infection occurs from the bite of an infected mosquito. There are no known reports of direct transmission of this virus from one person to another (such as from coughing and sneezing). However, there are reports of spread of the virus through blood transfusion and sexual contact. Currently, the length of time that this virus remains in body fluids is unknown.

Due to increasing reports of sexual transmission of the Zika virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued the following recommendation:

  • Men and women who travel to Zika-infected areas and have partners who are pregnant should correctly and consistently use condoms or abstain from sex for the remainder of the pregnancy.
How would I know if I get the Zika virus?

About four out of five people who have the virus do not have symptoms. Symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, headache, joint and/or muscle pain, conjunctivitis (“pinkeye”) and sometimes a rash.

At this time, testing for this virus is available through health care provider who work with their state health department and CDC for people who meet specific guidelines. At this time, testing is focused on women who are pregnant or are planning pregnancy and their sexual partners. Your healthcare provider can discuss the options with you.

Men and women who travel to Zika-infected areas and are concerned about sexual transmission of this virus should consider following the same recommendations

More information about how to prevent sexual transmission of Zika can be found at the CDC site.

Why is getting a Zika infection causing worry?

For non-pregnant people, the virus is generally mild. However, there have been reports of people who develop Guillain-Barre (a rare disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the nerves). For this reason, all people should use protective measures to prevent mosquito bites. 

In pregnancy, some special concerns have been raised. There are reports of babies being born with problems with brain development to mothers who were infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy. Microcephaly is a condition in which the baby is born with a small head and brain. Other changes in the brain have also been reported. These types of changes in the brain have been associated with long-term problems with learning and development in the affected child.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research has now determined that the Zika virus is the cause of microcepahly and other serious brain anomalies in infants whose mothers were infected with the virus during pregnancy. It is not yet known if the stage of pregnancy when a mother becomes infected plays a role.

Can this illness be treated?

Currently, there is no specific treatment for the Zika virus. Symptoms are treated as they happen (such as using acetaminophen to treat fever and/or headaches). There is no vaccine at this time but thre is work being done to develop one.

How can I avoid getting this virus?

Prevention is the best approach. That includes using bug repellent (including formulas that contain DEET) and wearing protective clothing. This is also important for people who are known to have the Zika virus. If a mosquito bites a person who has the Zika virus, the mosquito can pass it to another person who doesn’t have Zika.

This type of mosquito does not travel far and prefers to be indoors. Prevention in and around your home should include using air conditioning or screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home and removing standing water, where mosquitoes live and breed. Common examples of where these mosquitoes can breed in your home include pet water dishes, flower pots, or any other places where standing water can collect.

Also, it’s important to avoid contact with the body fluids of someone who may have been exposed or diagnosed with a Zika virus. That means using proper precautions during contact with blood, urine or feces of an infected/potentially infected person, as well as sexual contact).

What about breastfeeding and Zika virus?

To date, there are no reports of infants getting Zika virus through breastfeeding. Because of the benefits of breastfeeding, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed even in areas where Zika virus is found.

Where can I get more up-to-date information?

This information is changing rapidly. The best resources are the CDC and the World Health Organization. MotherToBaby is also a dependable resource with fact sheets and live counseling services available. If you have questions or concerns about the Zika virus in pregnancy or breastfeeding, please contact a MotherToBaby expert by calling 1-888-285-3410, emailing us or visiting our national website.

Photo of a mosquito that may cause Zika by James Gathaney. 

Originally posted: Feb 2, 2016
Last updated: Aug 2, 2016