If you've been reading news headlines the past month you probably know two things for sure. First, we are in an election year and we will keep hearing why such and such candidate is better than so and so candidate until the talking heads are blue in the face. And, two, that a mysterious virus by the name of Zika is wreaking havoc in much of the Southern hemisphere. While I can't help you with your decision on who to vote for in November of 2016, I can help shed some light on Zika and how it affects you and your family.
Zika is a virus that can cause symptoms of fever, rash, pink eye and joint pain. These symptoms usually last about one week and are typically mild. Rarely are the symptoms so severe that they require hospitalization. It can be spread from person to person via the bite of a mosquito and through sexual contact, from an infected male to his partner. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still investigating if it can be spread via saliva and urine, but that has yet to be determined. So, why all the fuss then? The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a public health emergency as it investigates the possible link of babies born with abnormally small heads, known as microcephaly, and other birth defects, and the Zika virus. Additionally, there may be a possible link between Gullian Barre syndrome, a disorder characterized by progressive muscle weakness that can lead to entire body paralysis, and the Zika virus. As of now, it is unknown whether the increase in microcephaly cases or the cases of Gullian Barre are directly caused by Zika.
It is because of the possible link of Zika to microcephaly that the CDC has issued warnings to pregnant women and women who are trying to get pregnant. If you or your partner is pregnant or trying to get pregnant, it would be best to hold off on travel to areas with Zika (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-information). If you must travel to these places, first talk to your doctor before you go and be sure to take special precautions while there -- specifically, avoid getting mosquito bites. Also, if you do travel to one of these areas while pregnant, it is recommended you get tested between 2 and 12 weeks after your return, even if you are not showing symptoms.
I’ve received some questions in the last few weeks from families who are traveling to areas with Zika and what they need to do to protect themselves. The best way to prevent you or your family from getting Zika virus is to prevent against mosquito bites. Make sure you wear clothing with long sleeves and long pants that have embedded Permethrin, use insect repellants, and sleep in places with screens or air-conditioning, or use mosquito netting over your bed.
Thankfully, as of right now, there have been no confirmed Zika cases acquired in the United States (U.S). All the cases confirmed in the U.S. have been acquired in other countries with Zika. There is some worry that with warmer weather on the horizon the mosquitos that carry Zika will make their way North, although for right now it’s not the case. Currently there is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, so the best way to avoid the effects of Zika is not getting in the first place. Researchers are working on developing a vaccine, although that could take years before it is available to the masses.
Check out the CDC's website for more detailed and up-to-date information. Or, if you have more specific questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at ABC Pediatrics. We are happy to help!
*Information presented adapted from Center for Disease Control and Prevention information on Zika http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html
Mary-Faith Fuller, CPNP
I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has worked at ABC Pediatrics since January 2014.