Zika Virus: Symptoms, Infection, and Prevention
The ongoing spread of the Zika virus is casting a pall over the busy summer travel season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued travel notices for dozens of countries in the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, Central and South America, and the organization is keeping tally of hundreds of cases as the virus spreads. As part of Ashford University’s Promoting Awareness and Wellness in Students initiative, Forward Thinking reached out to Erica Din, a Family Nurse Practitioner with Cigna, to provide students with facts about the virus, its methods of transmission, and prevention strategies. Din has a background in Public Health, and she was trained as an infectious disease epidemiologist at the CDC.
FT: What are the symptoms of Zika?
Erica Din: Fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), but many people don’t have any symptoms. The illness is usually mild, lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. It can be associated with developmental delay and seizures, among other long-term problems.
FT: How is the virus spread?
Erica Din: The Zika virus can be spread multiple ways, including through the bite of an infected mosquito, from a pregnant woman to her fetus, through sexual contact, and through blood transfusion. It is diagnosed based on a person’s recent travel history, symptoms, and urine and/or blood test results. There is no specific medicine or vaccine for the Zika virus. The treatment is what we call ‘supportive,’ which includes rest, drinking fluids to prevent dehydration, and taking acetaminophen to reduce any fever and pain.
FT: How can a person prevent infection?
Erica Din: There is currently no vaccine that protects against the Zika virus infection. Since the Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of mosquitos of the Aedes species, it is important to take measures to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Use mosquito repellent and/or wear protective clothing when outdoors. If you have plans to travel to Cape Verde, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific Islands, or South America, speak with your health care provider about specific guidelines and recommendations to protect yourself.
Currently, pregnant women are advised not to travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission and to consistently and correctly use condoms during sexual intercourse or to abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy with male partners who reside in or have traveled to areas with active Zika virus transmission. Pregnant women who live in or must travel to one of these areas should talk to their health care provider and strictly follow steps to prevent Zika virus infection from mosquito bites.
Travelers returning to the United States from an area in which Zika has been reported should take steps to prevent mosquito bites for three weeks, even if they don’t feel sick. This precaution is important so that a mosquito does not bite an infected person and spread the virus to a new region.
Further information and the CDC’s Zika response plan can be found on the agency’s website.
Written by Ashford University staff.