You may be hearing about Zika virus disease for the first time, but it was actually discovered in a monkey in the Zika Forest of Uganda in 1947. Now it’s spreading to many countries worldwide, and new information is being uncovered daily.
Zika virus is spread primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus). These mosquitos bite both day and night. It can also be spread through sex, and can be passed from a pregnant women to her fetus. You also can contract Zika through blood transfusions. There is no evidence that it spreads through touching, coughing or sneezing.
Based on information about similar infections, a person infected with Zika is likely to be protected from future Zika virus infections.
Many people infected with Zika won’t have symptoms or will have only mild ones similar to many other diseases, so they probably won’t know they have it. The most common symptoms include a fever rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. Those with Zika may also experience muscle pain or a headache. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika.
Risks for Pregnant Women and Babies
Zika during pregnancy can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other severe brain defects. Microcephaly is a sign of incomplete brain development in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected. Zika has also been linked to other problems in pregnancies, such as miscarriage and stillbirth. Babies infected with Zika before birth can also have other birth defects: problems with hearing or vision, abnormal arms or legs and not growing properly.
Protect Against Mosquito Bites
Adults and children older than three years can use EPA-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil or lemon eucalyptus or para-methane-diol. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens that keep out mosquitoes. Take steps to control mosquitoes inside and outside the home by removing places where they can lay eggs. Empty, scrub, turn over, cover or throw away any items that hold water once a week. Also, treat clothing and gear with permethrin or buy permethrin-treated items.
Small children need different care. Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than two months old, and don’t use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-methane-diol on children under three years old. Never apply insect repellent on the skin under clothing, and don’t spray insect repellent directly onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth or cut or irritated skin.
If You Think You May Have Zika
Zika is diagnosed based on your recent travel history, symptoms and the results of blood and/or urine tests. Currently a blood or urine test is the most common way to confirm a Zika infection, and a provider may order multiple tests to look for several types of infections.
There is no vaccine for Zika, and there is no specific medicine or treatment for people who become infected. Current recommendations are to treat the symptoms with plenty of risk, drink fluids to prevent dehydration and take acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain. It’s important to avoid taking aspirin or othernonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding.
When to Call Your Provider
Pregnant women with symptoms of Zika who have lived in or visited an area with Zika should see their provider. Women and their partners who are thinking about pregnancy should talk with their provider about plans for having children, the potential risk of getting Zika during pregnancy and their partner’s potential exposure to Zika.
For more information, visit: www.cdc.gov/zika.
Angelika H. Claussen, PhD, Jessica Franks, MPH, and Georgina Peacock, MD, MPH, are with the Division of Human Development and Disability, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.