What You Need to Know About the Zika Virus
Texans are used to mosquitoes giving us more than a bite, but recent reports show some mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have migrated from South America to Central America, Puerto Rico, Houston, and Hawaii. The Dallas County Health and Human Services confirmed two people have tested positive for the Zika Virus. The first patient acquired the virus through sexual contact with the second patient who recently returned from Venezuela, where there have been confirmed cases.Both patients have recovered fully from their illnesses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a travel alert warning people about the risk of visiting nations affected by the Zika virus, which has been linked to more than 4,000 cases of birth defects in Brazil. Here are some answers to your most pressing questions.
What is Zika virus?
Zika is a virus spread primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, which can breed in pools of water and typically bite during the day. The mosquitoes spreading the disease are the same ones that spread Chikungunya and dengue. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika or medicine to treat the infection. One patient in Dallas County had sexual contact with an individual who was ill and had recently visited a country where the Zika virus was present.
What are the symptoms?
About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus get sick, and you’ll typically see symptoms about two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. For those infected, the symptoms are mild — fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). If you’ve traveled to the affected area in the past two to 14 days, contact your health care provider, especially if you are or think you may be pregnant.
What is the treatment?
Our doctors are on alert and prepared for any patient who might exhibit symptoms. There is no cure or vaccine for Zika virus, so they recommend supportive care. Get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration, and take acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain. Do not take aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and if you’re taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your health care provider.
If you’re pregnant and have traveled to one of the countries where Zika is currently active, tell your OBGYN. He or she can review fetal ultrasounds and do maternal testing.
How is Zika spread?
The Zika virus is most commonly spread by the Aedes mosquito bite. It has now been confirmed the virus can be transmitted through sexual contact. Dallas County has one patient who contracted the virus through sexual contact.
Recent temperatures in our area have not been conducive to Aedes mosquito activity, although such mosquitoes are usually present in our area during the warmer late-spring and summer months.
Why is it considered serious?
The Zika virus is potentially serious for pregnant women because they have a lower immune system and more susceptible to the virus. It’s possible that the Zika virus could be passed from mother to fetus during pregnancy, which can cause microcephaly, a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads. This disorder causes severe developmental issues and sometimes death.
Brazil has seen the most microcephaly cases so far — 4,180 in babies born to women who were infected with Zika during their pregnancies — but the CDC has yet to confirm if Zika is the cause. In 2014, there were only 146 cases of microcephaly in Brazil. So far, 51 babies have died. Other Latin American countries are seeing cases in newborns.
Zika has also been linked to Guillain-Barre Syndrom which causes the body's immune system to attack part of the peripheral nervous system.
Have there been cases of microcephaly in the U.S.?
In the U.S., a baby with microcephaly was born in Hawaii after his mother returned from Brazil. Two pregnant women in Illinois who traveled to Latin America have tested positive for the virus.
Where are the affected areas?
According to the CDC, the virus is being locally transmitted in American Samoa, Aruba, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Marshall Islands, Martinique, Mexico, New Caledonia, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, Tonga, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Venezuela.
If you’re pregnant, the CDC advises postponing travel to these areas.
Patients have tested positive for the virus in the US, including here in Dallas County. Those cases did not originate from a mosquito bite in the United States.
How can I keep from being infected?
The best way to prevent being infected is to avoid being bitten. The CDC recommends these precautions:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–registered insect repellents, which are evaluated for safety and effectiveness. Follow the product label instructions and reapply every few hours. Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
- If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
For babies and children:
- Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months of age.
- Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs, or cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
- Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin. Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.