Zika Virus Q&A with Our Specialists
Olathe Medical Center's Infection Preventionist Stan Stuckey, RN, BSN, CIC, answers your questions about Zika virus.
What is Zika virus?
Zika is a virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes in certain areas of the world. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, the virus may also spread through blood transfusion and sexual contact. Local transmission has been identified in at least 28 countries or territories in the Americas, including Puerto Rico. You can check the CDC website for updates on countries that have confirmed cases of Zika virus.
How is it transmitted?
Zika virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes, although a recent report suggested that a case has been transmitted via sexual contact and possibly via blood transfusion. The CDC is continuing to study the transmission of Zika virus, and new information is coming out daily.
Can I get the virus from another person?
You cannot get the virus directly from another person via casual contact, as far as we know at this point. You can check the CDC website for additional information.
What are the symptoms?
According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of Zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (inflammation of tissue surrounding the eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
Is there a cure and/or vaccine?
There is currently no treatment or vaccine for Zika virus. If traveling to an affected area, the best way to prevent Zika virus infection is to:
- Avoid mosquito bites.
- Use air conditioning or window and door screens when indoors.
- Wear long sleeves and pants, and use insect repellents when outdoors. Most repellents, including DEET, can be used on children older than two months.
- Pregnant and lactating women can use all Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents, including DEET, according to the product label. Check the product label and consult with your doctor if you have questions regarding the application of repellents.
Is Zika virus in the Kansas City area?
According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Zika virus has not been identified in the Kansas City area.
Do you think the Zika virus will migrate to Kansas?
It is difficult to predict if the Zika virus will migrate to Kansas, but because of its similarities to the mosquito-borne Dengue fever, which is common in warm climates but rare in countries that have cold winters like the U.S., widespread Zika virus transmission seems unlikely.
Olathe Medical Center's Obstetrician and Gynecologist Logan J. Kracht, MD, answers your questions about Zika virus and pregnancy.
Should pregnant women in the Kansas City area be concerned about getting the Zika virus?
It is important that we all take this problem seriously. But so far, only specific people are at risk. The Zika virus can be transmitted to humans via two ways: being bitten by a mosquito that carries the virus, or through sexual transmission. So pregnant women in Kansas City are at risk if:
- They have traveled to or lived in an affected area, or
- They are at risk of sexual transmission from someone who has traveled to or lived in an affected area.
The Zika virus is a microbe carried by mosquitos that can be transmitted to human beings. Even though it has not been definitively proven yet, the scientific community agrees that there is a strong link between infected pregnant mothers and their babies being born with microcephaly and neurological problems. Microcephaly is a term for an abnormally small head circumference, which is linked to an increased chance of developmental problems. These cases seem to have started in Brazil but more recently are occurring in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. Thankfully, there have been very few instances in the United States, and they were of women who had traveled to or lived in the affected areas.
What makes pregnant women more susceptible to this virus?
Currently, we know pregnant women are no more likely than non-pregnant individuals to get the virus if bitten by a mosquito. For all people, the symptoms of fever, rash or conjunctivitis only affect one in five individuals and don't particularly lead to a hospital admission. However, infection while pregnant is much more serious to a developing fetus.
If a pregnant woman suspects she has the virus, what should she do?
If you have symptoms of the virus and a history of travel and/or sexual contact with someone who has been to an infected area, you should contact your healthcare provider. According to the CDC, Zika virus testing is not indicated for pregnant women who haven't visited or lived in an affected area. Pregnant women need to contact their healthcare provider if they start having symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (inflammation of tissue surrounding the eye). Blood testing for Zika virus is appropriate if patients have traveled to an affected area within the previous two weeks. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) provides interim guidance for providers. In addition to the above, those suspected of having the Zika virus should receive ultrasound evaluations.
Are there travel restrictions for pregnant women?
Until further notice, the CDC has advised pregnant women to NOT travel to the areas of concern for the Zika virus: Mexico, many South American countries, Central America, The Caribbean, and some Pacific Islands. Currently, the list is up to 28 countries. Anyone who has travel plans should check the CDC website frequently as it seems new territories are added daily.
If someone already has travel plans in an affected area, what should they do?
Given the seriousness of the situation and the number of unknowns, I would strongly advise against travel to the areas of concern. I understand the inconvenience of cancelling vacation plans, which may not include a refund. However, to this date, no one knows what gestational age is the worst to acquire this virus, nor the chances of fetal disease if exposed. It is simply not worth the risk until we know more. For example, pregnant women should not attend the summer Olympics of 2016, which are being held in Brazil.
What precautions can pregnant women take?
Other than avoiding travel to the affected areas, pregnant women can take the following precautions to avoid mosquito bites:
- Minimize exposure to mosquito bits by keeping skin covered.
- Stay inside.
- Use repellents that contain DEET.
- Treat clothing with Permethrin, a repellent that can be applied to clothing. Both DEET and Permethrin are safe to use during pregnancy when applied as directed.
Right now, the good news is there are no indications that mosquitos in the U.S. carry the Zika virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has started a process that streamlines mosquito control and the development of vaccinations worldwide. Much like any other outbreak situation, we should practice common sense and look to the experts for guidance. For more information about the Zika virus, visit the CDC's web page.