Who Is Zika?

Well it’s not that girl who lives down the block, it’s a virus. This virus is transmitted by mosquito bites and causes mild symptoms in those exposed, but in select population, the implications are large. Here are a few facts you should know and can share with family and friends to try to keep loved ones safe.

  1. Pregnant women and women attempting to become pregnant beware. The biggest concern for those exposed to the Zika virus is the possibility of causing severe birth defects in unborn children. Women infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy can deliver infants with microcephaly and brain abnormalities. Microcephaly is an abnormally small head and brain under-development. While it is possible for children with this condition to be of normal intelligence, developmental delays affecting things such as speech, movement and balance are more common.  The greatest risk of microcephaly and malformations appears to be associated with infection during the first trimester of pregnancy.
  2. How do you get it? Mosquito bites. Because there is no vaccine or prevention other than mosquito bite prevention, nor is there any treatment for this virus, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommend postponing travel to affected areas. These areas include Miami Florida and multiple tropical places overseas if you are pregnant or planning to be. Check the CDC website for updates.
  3. The symptoms: Only 1 in 5 people infected with Zika become symptomatic. The symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and red irritated eyes, similar to pink eye. Symptoms usually only last several days to 1 week and are typically mild. Severe symptoms requiring hospitalization are rare. The CDC recommends blood testing for pregnant women with symptoms during or shortly after traveling to an affected area.
  4. What if you have no symptoms but recently traveled to an affected area? Pregnant women who have returned from affected countries should tell their healthcare providers so that testing and closer surveillance of the fetus can be initiated. This often includes serial ultrasound to look for signs of brain malformation. Men can hold the Zika virus in their semen for up to 6 months or longer, so protected intercourse or abstinence is important during that time-period. Visitors to countries affected by the virus should wear long sleeves, long pants and wear insect repellent containing DEET.

The Zika virus can have severe lifelong implications for unborn children. Cancel booked travel to these affected areas if you are pregnant, and diligently prevent pregnancy if travel is unavoidable. Men can hold the Zika virus in their semen for up to 6 months, so protected intercourse or abstinence are important during that time period. Let’s hope you bought the travel insurance, but even if you didn’t, your baby’s life is worth a lot more than the money lost.