The Zika Virus: The Facts We Need to Know
The Zika Virus has not been as big of a concern since the first big outbreak in 2016. However, with humid weather and rain more prevalent in the warmer months, mosquitoes that carry Zika will continue to be a risk. For pregnant women, this is a real concern because of the likely link between the Zika virus and babies born with microcephaly. While the threat of Zika is not great at this point in time, it is always good to be informed about the virus and how people, especially pregnant women, can protect themselves.
What is the Zika Virus?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Zika is a virus 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. On February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern.
Quick Facts About Zika
- 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. The CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women, and suggests pregnant women should consider delaying travel to areas with Zika.
In 2015 and 2016, the Americas experienced a serious outbreak of Zika. There was also 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 because microcephaly can also be caused by other factors.
Here’s What We (Still) Don’t Know
- How likely is a pregnant woman to contract Zika if exposed to an infected mosquito?
- How will the virus affect her pregnancy if a pregnant woman is infected? We don’t know how likely it is (or is not) that Zika will pass to her fetus.
- Will the fetus develop birth defects after being infected with the virus? 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!
Knowing this information is especially important when experts predict a warmer than average summer. They say this could enable the mosquitoes to thrive through more of the south and the east United States. 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 during the summer. That’s not too difficult, right?
Although the threat of Zika is nowhere near where it was back in 2016, we want to share this information to make sure that pregnant mamas stay informed. Wear your bug spray. Don’t travel to countries with high numbers of Zika cases while pregnant. 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!