Zika Virus: Little Mosquito, Big Concerns

By Lillian B. Mon, March 14, 2016

Are you worried about Zika?
Every day we read more information about the Zika virus. Here is what is known now.

What is the Zika virus?
The first instance of a local Zika virus outbreak was reported in Brazil in May 2015. The virus is transmitted to people primarily by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Doctors now suspect the virus can also be transmitted through contact with saliva, semen, urine, and blood of infected individuals. It is estimated that 500,000 to 1.5 million persons have been infected.

Where is the outbreak currently located?
The outbreak spread from South and Central America to Puerto Rico, Caribbean nations, and parts of the South Pacific. Infections have been reported in the United States, including Pennsylvania and Delaware, in some travelers returning to the United States from affected countries.

What are the symptoms, and how serious is it for most people?
Most people infected with the Zika virus have no obvious symptoms. Others may experience mild symptoms including fever, rash, headache, aching joints, and red eyes (conjunctivitis). The symptoms usually appear within three to 12 days after exposure and resolve in a few days.

What is the most serious effect of exposure to the Zika virus?
There is concern that the virus harms unborn babies, causing miscarriage or microcephaly (a rare birth defect featuring a small head and brain abnormalities). The incidence of fetal microcephaly in Brazil rose dramatically in 2015.The Zika virus has been detected in the placenta and fetal tissue of infected pregnant women.

How can I protect myself?
If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, avoid travel to countries with current Zika outbreaks. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information on the Zika virus. If travel to these areas is unavoidable, wear long-sleeve, light-colored clothing; socks; long pants; and a hat. Use insect repellents safe for pregnant women that contain DEET, and follow label instructions. Stay in air-conditioned, screened-in hotels. If a male partner has been exposed to the virus or bitten by mosquitoes in these countries, avoid unprotected sex, since the Zika virus has been found in body fluids.

How is Zika treated?
There is currently no treatment or vaccine, but several companies are trying to develop a vaccine.

How can I learn more?
Your family doctor or nurse practitioner is your best source of Zika information, because he or she knows your personal medical history and your family situation. Health professionals receive regular updates about Zika. They read postings from the CDC, emails from infection-control specialists, and alerts from online journals. Prestigious institutions, like Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, host webinars for health professionals on Zika virus. The best way for you to keep current is to follow the postings on MedlinePlus, the consumer-health database produced by the National Library of Medicine and offered for free on the Free Library of Philadelphia website. MedlinePlus gathers information from reliable government and health-organization sources, including the CDC. Other helpful health databases offered on the Free Library of Philadelphia website are Health and Wellness Resource Center and KidsHealth. Major newspapers also have teams of medical journalists monitoring postings from the CDC, the World Health Organization, New England Journal of Medicine, and public health organizations in countries experiencing Zika outbreaks.

If you need assistance finding information, visit your neighborhood library, where a librarian can aid your search.

The Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
The Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

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