What You Need to Know about the Zika Virus

What You Need to Know about the Zika Virus

Aedes aegypti mosquitoIf you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ve probably heard about the Zika virus by now. Although the virus was discovered back in 1947, there were only a few documented cases in the world before May 2015 when the Pan American Health Organization confirmed an infection in Brazil. Since then, the spread of the virus has become a much more serious issue, and on February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a public health emergency.

We’ve gathered information about the virus from sources including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO. While these websites are your best sources for staying up to date with news and developments, we’ve compiled some of the basics about the virus for you right here. Please note that our knowledge about the virus is still evolving as we learn more about Zika, but these are some of the things we know as of today.

Why Is It a Big Deal?

There are a couple of reasons for this. The main reason is that if you become infected with the virus while you are pregnant, your baby could be born with a birth defect called microcephaly, where your baby’s head is smaller than normal and their brain is underdeveloped. Note that we say your baby could be born with these defects, not that it will be born with these defects. If you are infected while pregnant, the odds of your child having these issues are higher, but there’s still a chance you can deliver a healthy baby.

Another reason that the virus should be taken seriously is that most people don’t know they’re infected. The majority of those infected will never experience symptoms (the most common include joint pain, a fever, or a rash). The CDC has found that the virus usually only stays in the bloodstream for about a week, but during that time, the infected individual can spread the virus to others.

How Is the Virus Transmitted?

There are four ways that the virus can be transmitted that we know of:

  1. Mosquito Bites—This is the primary way that the virus is transmitted. Mosquitos carry the virus, and most mosquitos will pick up the virus when they bite an infected individual. The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the main perpetrator.
  2. Blood Transfusion—We aren’t aware of any cases of this happening in the United States, but it has happened in other countries.
  3. From a Pregnant Woman to Her Unborn Child—If a pregnant woman is infected, she can pass the virus on to her fetus. As discussed earlier, this can result in the child having severe brain defects and other issues. If you become infected with the virus after you give birth and are breastfeeding, your child should be safe. Thus far, there are no reports of infants getting the virus through nursing.
  4. Sexual Contact—The Zika virus remains in semen longer than it does in blood. There have been several cases of infected men spreading the virus to their sexual partners.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself?

There isn’t yet a vaccine for the Zika virus, so prevention is your best option. There are several steps that you can take to prevent mosquito bites (the CDC gives an extensive list here). Since the virus can also be transmitted through sex, use condoms or abstain entirely. This is especially true if you are a pregnant woman whose partner has been traveling to infected areas.

What about Traveling?

This August, the Summer Olympics are being held in Rio de Janeiro. If you’re going to the Olympics, you should do your best to prevent mosquito bites while you’re there and take special precautions for three weeks after you return home. Pregnant women are advised not to travel to infected areas. If you are a woman and are not pregnant when you attend the Games (or another destination with the virus), avoid becoming pregnant until at least eight weeks after you return home. You can find updated information about areas infected with the virus here.

For more information on the web, visit cdc.gov and who.int. If you have questions or would like to discuss any concerns you have regarding the virus, you can schedule an appointment with me, Dr. Kathryn Mandal, by calling 817-617-8600 or scheduling online at continuumtx.com.