Due to the recent news reports of Zika virus infection we put together some helpful answers to common questions. While information is currently limited, we are happy to share what we know.
I keep hearing about the Zika virus on the news. What is the Zika virus?
Zika virus was first identified in Africa in 1947. It is a virus in the same family as dengue and chikungunya. In 2013, there were outbreaks of Zika virus in islands in the Pacific, and now outbreaks are being reported in Central and South America, as well as Mexico. Recently, cases have been also reported in several U.S. states and territories. At the present time, all U.S. cases have been in people who have traveled to affected countries.
As of Feb. 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Zika “a public health emergency of international concern.”
How do people get Zika?
Zika infection occurs from the bite of an infected mosquito. There are no known reports of direct transmission of this virus from one person to another (such as from coughing and sneezing). However, there are reports of spread of the virus through blood transfusion and sexual contact.
Photo by James Gathaney
Why is getting a Zika infection causing worry?
For non-pregnant people, the virus is generally mild. However, there have been reports of people who develop Guillain-Barre (a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves). For this reason, all people should use protective measures to prevent mosquito bites.
In pregnancy, some special concerns have been raised. There are reports of babies being born with microcephaly to mothers who were infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy. Microcephaly is a condition in which the baby is born with a small head and brain. Other changes in the brain have also been reported. These types of changes in the brain have been associated with long-term problems with learning and development in the affected child.
Research is ongoing to determine if the Zika virus is the cause of these brain changes in infants whose mothers were infected with the virus during pregnancy and if the stage of pregnancy plays a role.
How would I know if I get the Zika virus?
About four in five people who have the virus do not have symptoms. Symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, headache, joint and/or muscle pain, conjunctivitis (“pinkeye”) and sometimes a rash.
At this time, testing for this virus is available through state health departments which are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They can provide testing for people who meet specific guidelines. It is expected that private laboratories will develop tests in the near future. Your healthcare provider can discuss the options with you.
Can this illness be treated?
Currently, there is no specific treatment for the Zika virus. Symptoms are treated as they arise (such as using acetaminophen to treat fever and/or headaches).
How can I avoid getting this virus?
Prevention is the best approach. That includes using bug repellent (including formulas that contain DEET) and wearing protective clothing. Prevention in and around your home should include using air conditioning or screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home and removing standing water where mosquitoes live and breed. There is no vaccine at this time but there is work being done to develop one.
What about breastfeeding and Zika virus?
To date, there are no reports of infants getting Zika virus through breastfeeding. Because of the benefits of breastfeeding, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed even in areas where Zika virus is found.
Where can I get more up-to-date information?
This information is changing rapidly. The best resources are the CDC and the World Health Organization. MotherToBaby is also a dependable resource with fact sheets and live counseling services available. If you have questions or concerns about the Zika virus in pregnancy or breastfeeding, please contact a MotherToBaby expert by calling 1-888-285-3410, emailing us or visiting our national website.