What you need to know about the Zika virus

Pregnant women and anyone else planning to travel someplace warm and tropical this winter should check travel advisories to see if their destination is included in a list of countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific islands. Several countries are experiencing an outbreak of Zika virus, which is a concern among public health officials.

What is Zika virus?

It is a virus transmitted through the bite of the same kind of mosquito that spreads dengue and chikungunya viruses. This mosquito species is fairly common throughout the world, so outbreaks are likely to continue. People not planning a trip to one of the countries listed in the travel advisory can rest easy: The mosquito that spreads the virus is not found in Idaho. 

What are the symptoms?

Zika virus typically remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days to a week. About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika will get sick, and the illness is usually mild. Because of this, many people might not realize they have been infected. Symptoms typically begin 2 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito and include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

Why is this virus causing such worry among public health officials?

Although infection with the virus is generally mild, it could lead to serious consequences for those infected while they’re pregnant. Early indications suggest that infection with the virus could be linked to pregnancy losses and microcephaly in newborns, which is a serious and often fatal birth defect in which the brain does not develop properly. Investigations are ongoing and it is still unclear whether these outcomes are definitively linked to the virus. Public health officials want women to take the necessary precautions until we know more about how Zika virus infection will affect their pregnancies and newborns.

What if a pregnant woman has already planned a trip to one of the outbreak areas?

Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where outbreaks are occurring. Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctors first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip. Women trying to become pregnant should consult with their doctors before traveling to these areas and should also strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites on the trip.

Have we had any cases in the United States?

There have been reports of Zika virus disease in people who have traveled to or are visiting the United States from countries currently experiencing the outbreak, but local transmission has not been reported here. That’s why it’s important for anyone planning a trip, and particularly pregnant women, to be aware of areas where the virus is circulating.

What is the treatment?

There is no vaccine or specific medication for treatment. Generally, treatment consists of trying to keep the infected person as comfortable as possible with lots of rest, plenty of fluids and pain medication if necessary. The best way to avoid infection is to prevent mosquito bites, either by avoiding the areas in the outbreak or by using insect repellent.


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