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Zika Virus

What is the Zika virus?

Zika virus is a virus transmitted primarily by mosquitoes (more specifically, Aedes species) that got its name from the Zika forest in Uganda, where it was first identified/characterized in the 1940s.  Since then there have been outbreaks in Africa, the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia (typically tropical climates).  It wasn’t until May 2015 that the first reported case in the Western Hemisphere appeared (Brazil).  As has been well-documented in the news, the virus has since spread through much of the Americas and Caribbean islands.  While most people with Zika virus have no symptoms, those that do have symptoms typically tolerate the illness well.  It has perhaps gained the most publicity due to its association with a birth defect called microcephaly (small head and brain).

How do people get Zika virus?

It was once believed to be transmitted only by mosquito bites.  The current outbreak has led to new research showing the virus can be spread from infected males to their sexual partners, and from pregnant mothers to their unborn children.  There have been no reports of the virus spreading to infants by breastfeeding, and mothers are still encouraged to breastfeed even in locations where the virus is present.  It is unclear if Zika virus can be spread by blood transfusion, so the CDC is asking anyone who regularly donates blood to refrain from doing so for at least 28 days after traveling to affected areas.

How can I prevent myself or my child from getting Zika virus?

The first step is to avoid places where the Zika virus is being transmitted by mosquitoes.  For a list/map of locations where Zika virus is present visit http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html.  As of the most recent update (June 30, 2016) from the Virginia Health Department, 27 cases of Zika virus disease have been diagnosed in Virginia residents, only 5 of which have been in the central region of the state, and all of which were contracted during recent travel to an area with Zika virus.

Besides avoiding Zika areas, mosquito bite prevention is the primary means of protection.

For more information on insect repellents, including ineffective products/repellents, visit https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Insect-Repellents.aspx

You can also reference our Insect Repellent page, which contains a copy of a chart from the June 2016 publication of Contemporary Pediatrics listing available products and their ingredients.

What are the symptoms of Zika virus disease?

4 out of 5 persons infected with Zika virus will have NO symptoms at all.  Those who do develop symptoms usually have some combination of fever, rash, red/pink eyes (conjunctivitis), and joint pain.  Headache and muscle aches can also be experienced.  Researchers are currently exploring a link between Zika virus and an uncommon condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause paralysis.  Such an association, link or cause has not been clearly defined, and if one is to be found, it is most likely very rare.

I am pregnant or trying to become pregnant, and am planning to travel. What should I know?

It is best to check the CDC website for Areas with Zika, and avoid them if at all possible.  It is also strongly encouraged that you discuss travel with your OB/GYN prior to booking and/or departure.  If you have already booked travel to an area with Zika virus and have decided not to go, your airline may offer you a refund, even if you had non-refundable tickets.  Contact them or check their website to see if such a refund program is offered.  If you do travel, follow the mosquito-bite-prevention tips above, and you can read more at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/index.html.

Who should be tested for Zika virus?

Pregnant women who have traveled to areas with known Zika virus transmission within the past 12 weeks should be tested even if they have not had any symptoms of illness.  If you are pregnant/trying to become pregnant and have not traveled to one of these areas, but your sexual partner has, they should be tested and it is advised you refrain from sexual intercourse until test results return.  The following children should be tested:

  1.  Newborns whose mothers had a positive or inconclusive test for Zika.
  2.  Newborns whose mothers traveled to Zika areas during pregnancy but had inconclusive testing.
  3.  Newborns with microcephaly or intracranial calcifications on prenatal ultrasound.
  4.  Newborns with 2 or more Zika symptoms in the first 2 weeks of life not explained by another cause.
  5.  Children who traveled to a Zika-affected area and have 2 or more symptoms of Zika during or within 2 weeks of travel.

If you have any questions about testing for Zika virus ask your doctor or refer the CDC website linked in other parts of this page.

Will Zika virus spread to the United States?

As of today, there have been no local mosquito-born Zika virus disease cases in the U.S., only travel-associated cases.  There have been locally transmitted cases in U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  There is the possibility that as individuals travel this summer to Zika areas, and mosquito season starts in the U.S. (especially in southern states), local spread could result.  For updates, check with your preferred local and national news outlets, the CDC Zika page, or the Virginia Department of Health Zika page.

 

Last updated 7/6/2016