There has been a lot of attention in the news recently regarding the Zika virus. Because there are more questions about Zika than there are answers, there’s a lot of confusion.
Here is what we currently know:
The Zika virus is spread via the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. People can also acquire the virus by having sex with an infected man. Finally, Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Currently there have been no local mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases reported in the US. Of the 820 confirmed Zika cases on the US mainland so far, all have been travel related or sexually transmitted.
The symptoms of Zika virus are commonly fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes) and headache. The symptoms occur within a few days to a week after exposure. The illness is typically mild and some people are completely asymptomatic. Once infected, persons are likely to be protected from future infection.
Diagnosis of Zika is made by a blood test. This test is run through your local or state health department and the results take approximately three weeks. Your doctor will help determine if you need testing.
Why do we care?
Zika virus infection during pregnancy has been shown to cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects as well as eye defects, hearing loss and impaired growth. There is also recent evidence that Zika can cause serious neurologic effects in adults, including Guillain-Barre (an autoimmune disorder) and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
How do I avoid Zika?
For men and women considering pregnancy or for women that are pregnant – avoid travel to areas that are endemic for Zika. Prevent mosquito bites by wearing DEET products and avoiding the outdoors when the mosquitos are most active, which is during the day. Minimize potential breeding grounds by emptying standing water (potted plants and birdbaths).
What if I want to have a baby?
For men and women diagnosed with Zika or symptoms of Zika, the CDC recommends women wait eight weeks and men wait six months. This is because Zika lives longer in semen than in blood.
For men and women without Zika but had possible exposure (via travel or sex), the CDC recommends men and women wait at least eight weeks before attempting conception.
The CDC is constantly updating its website and should be consulted for the latest news and recommendations.