The Zika Virus: The Facts We Need to Know
The Zika Virus has been in the news a lot lately. U.S. Women’s Soccer player, Hope Solo, has recently expressed concerns about competing in this summer’s games in Rio. As of last month, there have been seven confirmed cases of Zika in the Houston area. But how much do we really know about the virus, and how can we protect ourselves? Especially those of us who are currently pregnant, or are hoping to become pregnant.
What is the Zika Virus?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of March 9, 2016, there have been 193 travel-associated Zika virus disease cases reported (in the U.S.). There have been zero “locally acquired vector-borne cases reported.” Zika is spread primarily to people through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Illness is usually mild, with symptoms only lasting a few days to a week after being bitten. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they rarely die. Most don’t even realize they’ve been infected. Luckily, once infected, you’re unlikely to become infected again.
The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947, and was named after the Zika Forest in Uganda. In May 2015, The Pan American Health Organization issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil, and on February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern. Zika virus is expected to continue spreading to new areas. (CDC)
What We Know To Date
- You can prevent Zika by avoiding mosquito bites. Check out Consumer Reports favorite repellents for fighting Zika here.
- Mosquitoes that spread Zika bite mostly during the daytime.
- Mosquitoes that spread Zika also spread dengue and Chikungunya viruses.
- You can prevent sexual transmission of Zika by using a condom or abstaining.
- When traveling to a country where Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, make sure you are properly prepared, and take all necessary precautions.
- There is no vaccine or medicine to treat the virus. If you think you are ill, consult a physician who can help you treat the symptoms.
The Zika Virus and Pregnancy
Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and has been linked to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies of mothers who had Zika virus while pregnant. The CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women, and suggests pregnant women should consider delaying travel to areas with Zika.
Since May of last year, Brazil has experienced a serious outbreak of Zika. There has also been an increase in the number of infants born with microcephaly. Although there is increasing evidence of a link between Zika and microcephaly, the CDC points out that we do not know if these babies’ microcephaly is a result of their mothers’ Zika virus infection during pregnancy. Microcephaly can also be caused by other factors.
Here’s What We (Still) Don’t Know
- If a pregnant woman is exposed, how likely is she to get Zika?
- If a pregnant woman is infected, how will the virus affect her pregnancy? We don’t know how likely it is (or is not) that Zika will pass to her fetus.
- If the fetus is infected, we’re not sure how likely it is (or is not) that the fetus will develop birth defects. We’re not sure when in pregnancy the infection might cause harm to the fetus.
- We don’t know if sexual transmission of Zika virus poses a different risk of birth defects than mosquito-borne transmission.
The CDC says that based on the available evidence, “we think that Zika virus infection in a woman who is not pregnant would not pose a risk for birth defects in future pregnancies, after the virus has cleared from her blood.”
Well, here’s hoping!
And according to a recent article in The Houston Chronicle, researchers are predicting a warmer than average summer for most of the continental United States. They say this could enable the mosquitoes to thrive through more of the South and the East. It could also push temperatures in the hottest parts of Texas, Arizona, and California higher than optimal for mosquitoes. Conditions are most prevalent in July, August, and September. So basically what we’re saying here is that you might want to keep a bottle of Off Deep Woods handy at all times this summer. That’s not too difficult, right?
We only share this information because we want you to be informed. We are not trying to scare anyone, or cause undue panic. Wear your bug spray. Don’t travel to countries with high numbers of Zika cases while pregnant. Most of these tips are common sense. It’s pretty simple. Just use your brain, stay up-to-date (we can help with that), and as we always say — better to err on the side of over-precaution. Stay safe, Mommy Chicks!