Zika Virus: What You Need To Know

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Zika virus

Many of you have already heard in the news about the recent outbreak of Zika virus infections. Zika virus is not new. Previous outbreaks have been reported in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. In May 2015, the first case was reported in Brazil and recently, there have been growing reports of cases in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Many people infected with Zika virus are asymptomatic (no symptoms) or have mild symptoms

The most common symptoms of Zika disease:

  • fever
  • rash
  • joint pain
  • conjunctivitis (“pink eye”)

Especially dangerous for pregnant women

Lauren Adler_02R WEB72

Lauren Adler MD

Recent evidence from the current outbreak has shown that the disease can be potentially serious in pregnant women, causing babies to be born with microcephaly, a birth defect which causes an abnormally small brain and head size. For this reason, the CDC has advised all women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to consider postponing travel to any country where there is a risk of Zika virus transmission. At this time, that includes all countries in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Although there have been cases of Zika diagnosed in the US in the past, Americans who have recently traveled account for no cases of local transmission thus far.

At Westchester Health Associates, we are advising our pregnant patients and those wishing to get pregnant in the near future NOT to travel to those areas deemed unsafe and listed as potential threats. For detailed information about the Zika virus and which countries may be unsafe to travel to, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control website.

There is no vaccine to prevent or medication to cure Zika infection

Zika virus can be diagnosed with a blood test. The best treatment for Zika disease is:

  • rest
  • fluids
  • acetaminophen (Tylenol, Anacin, etc) for pain or fever

If you have recently traveled and have symptoms of Zika disease, please consult your health care provider.

Cause and prevention

Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito which bites preferentially in the daytime (unlike the Anopheles mosquito, the transmitter of malaria, which is most active after sundown). The best prevention of any mosquito-related illness is to protect yourself from being bitten:

  • Wearing protective clothing such as long pants and shirts when outdoors is a start.
  • Repellents containing DEET are the next line of defense.
  • Young babies (under the age of 2 months) should not use any bug spray and should be protected by staying indoors and covered with clothing.
  • Children under the age of 12 should use products that contain no more than 10% DEET. For young children, it is safer to use lower concentrations of DEET and apply more often, as exposure to high concentrations of DEET has been shown to cause neurotoxicity.
  • It is safe for older children and adults to use products containing up to 50% DEET.
  • You can also apply products containing DEET to clothing and window screens.
  • Pregnant women can follow the same guidelines as non-pregnant adults regarding the use of DEET.

If you have any questions or concerns about Zika virus, contact your Westchester Health Associates medical provider or any Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatrician.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics.

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About the Author: ML Ball