Zika Virus – Do I need to be worried?
Zika virus belongs to a group of viruses called flaviviruses. It is similar to the yellow fever virus, dengue virus and West Nile virus. Zika virus infection occurs after a bite from an infected Aedes mosquito. Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in the Zika forest of Uganda. Up to recent times it has remained in Africa for the most part, except for small outbreaks in Asia, and a major epidemic in Micronesia.
In May 2015 the Zika virus was found to be transmitted in Brazil. The list of countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean, where the presence of the virus has been reported has been expanding since October 2015.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Infection?
One in every five persons infected with the Zika virus may develop symptoms. These symptoms may include low grade fever, rash, joint pains involving the small joint of the hand and feet and redness of the eyes. Other symptoms of infection include muscle pain, headache and pain behind the eyes. Abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and itching are rare symptoms of the disease. Symptoms typically occur between two and twelve days of a bite from an infected mosquito and are typically mild and last for two to seven days. Persons typically develop immunity to the virus once they have been infected.
The most concerning effects of Zika virus infection currently are those experienced by pregnant women. Infection by the virus may result in a baby being born with microcephaly (small head and brain). Some infected pregnant women may experience fetal loss.
In What Other Ways Are The Virus Transmitted?
Zika virus is transmitted mainly from the bite if an infected Aedes mosquito. The virus may also be transmitted through blood and body fluids and through breast milk. There have been no cases of local mosquito-borne transmission in the continental United States so far, but infection has been diagnosed in persons who have travelled to areas currently experiencing outbreaks. A single case of sexually transmitted Zika virus was reported in Texas in February, 2016.
Is It Safe To Travel?
Active transmission of the Zika virus has been reported in many countries in Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. The following websites will provide up to date information of Zika virus transmission and advice to travelers:
- Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)
How Can I Protect Myself If I Have to Travel?
There is currently no vaccine to prevent Zika virus infection. Preventing mosquito bites is the best form of protection for the virus. Below are a few steps that can be taken to prevent mosquito bites and subsequent infection if traveling to a country where Zika virus transmission is active:
- Use window and door screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering your dwelling area
- If possible, stay in buildings with air conditioning
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outside, especially during the daytime
- Sleep under a mosquito net
- Use insect repellant
You can protect yourself and your children by staying informed and aware. Discuss concerns with your child's pediatrician if you have unanswered questions.