Zika virus became a big news story early in 2016, when cases were reported in Brazil, other countries in Latin America and parts of the Caribbean. Women and men from the United States who traveled to those areas were at risk for acquiring Zika.
For Florida residents, the news hit closer to home in August 2016, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that there were cases of locally acquired Zika virus in Miami-Dade County. Mosquitos carrying the Zika virus have been identified in South Florida, the Brownsville, Texas, area and Puerto Rico.
Zika infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly, a serious birth defect that is a sign of incomplete brain development. Doctors have also found other serious birth defects, other neurologic problems, vision problems and hearing problems in a fetus or infants whose mother was infected with Zika during pregnancy.
Health experts at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital shared information on how Zika is spread and how to protect yourself, your partner and your children.
How is Zika Spread?
- Through mosquito bites: The types of mosquitoes that spread Zika virus are found in Florida, other areas of the United States and other countries. These mosquitos frequently bite in the daytime and also can bite at night. During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in a person’s blood and can pass from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.
- Through sexual activity: A person infected with the Zika virus can spread the virus through sexual activity. A man can spread the Zika virus for at least six months after he becomes infected.
- From a pregnant women to her fetus: Zika infection can be spread from the pregnant mother to the developing fetus or at the time of birth.
- Through a blood transfusion (possibly): There have not been any reported cases of Zika virus being spread by a blood transfusion in the United States. In 2016, many blood banks across the United States began testing their blood supply for the virus. A case of Zika virus transmission through donated platelets was reported in Brazil.
What Are the Symptoms of Zika Virus Infection?
Only about 1 in 5 people infected with the Zika virus show symptoms. Many people never know that they are infected. The time between when you are infected and when symptoms (if any) appear is about two to 14 days.
Signs and symptoms of Zika infection usually last less than a week and may include:
- Rash, joint or muscle pain
- Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
Zika is usually a mild illness. A hospital stay is not required. There is no medication to treat Zika, but doctors recommend rest, plenty of fluids and acetaminophen to manage symptoms and increase comfort.
How is Zika Virus Infection Diagnosed?
Based on your symptoms, travel history and the travel history of any sexual partners, your physician may order a laboratory test for Zika. This is often coordinated with the local or state health department.
How Can Infection with the Zika Virus Be Prevented?
- Consider travel plans: Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should consider avoiding travel to areas where Zika virus infection is established. Before traveling to an area with known Zika infection, pregnant women or women who might become pregnant should talk to their health care provider and follow all recommended steps to avoid mosquito bites.
- Eliminate standing water: The mosquitos that carry Zika virus can breed in just an ounce of water.
- Use sexual precautions: Women who are pregnant or could become pregnant and have a partner who lives in or has traveled to an area where there is Zika should either avoid having sex or use condoms.
- Avoid mosquito bites: The best way to limit the risk from mosquito-transmitted diseases like Zika is to use picaridin- or DEET-based insect repellants on your skin. The recommended amount of DEET in mosquito/insect repellant is 30 percent. It can be used on children 2 months and older and by pregnant women. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants to reduce skin exposure also helps to prevent Zika virus.
What Do I Need to Know About Protecting Children from Mosquito Bites and Zika Virus?
When it comes to mosquito protection and kids, the CDC recommends:
- Always follow instructions when applying insect repellent
- Don’t use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months of age
- For children under age 3, don’t use products that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD)
- Dress children in clothing that covers the arms and legs, or cover the baby’s crib, stroller and baby carrier with mosquito netting
- Don’t apply insect repellent on a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, a cut or irritated skin. Instead, adults should spray the insect repellant on their own hands and then apply it carefully to the child’s face.
How Can I Find Additional Information About Zika Virus: