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Zoning in on Zika

Zoning in on Zika

If you’ve heard about the Zika virus and are wondering what is going on, you’re not alone. Over the past few days, there has been a large number of news stories talking about this emerging disease, particularly as it pertains to an outbreak in Brazil. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned pregnant women against travel to several countries in the Caribbean, Latin America and Puerto Rico, where the Zika virus is spreading.  

But is this something we need to worry about in the United States? Dr. Mia Finkelston, a doctor on Amwell, answers your top questions below.

What is the Zika Virus and why are people talking about it?

The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted infection that for most people, causes only a brief, mild flu-like illness. In pregnant women, however, it has been linked to an alarming increase in the rate of a birth defect known as microcephaly, which causes an abnormally small head and brain size in babies.

It is causing alarm because the virus has quickly spread outside of Africa where it is most common and very few people have immune defenses against the virus. To date, 20 people in the United States have been diagnosed with the virus. But with the Summer Olympics taking place in Rio de Janeiro this year, the Zika virus is feared to affect the tourists from all over the world that will travel to the South American country to watch the games and spread like wildfire.

Is Zika in the United States?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), all of the women infected with the Zika virus in the United States recently traveled to countries with Zika transmission. But experts worry that if an infected person is bitten by another mosquito here, that mosquito - which is now carrying the virus — can infect someone else.

Who is at risk for the Zika virus?
Anyone who is living in or traveling where the Zika virus has been found and who has not already been infected with Zika virus is at risk for infection. As of now, the disease is limited to certain areas. The list includes Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Venezuela - and officials warn that more countries will be added soon.

How does the Zika virus spread?
Researchers believe the Zika virus is spread mainly through mosquitoes. A mosquito bites an infected person, draws blood, and contracts the virus. When it then goes and bites another person, the virus spreads. Small studies have also shown the Zika virus can be transmitted through blood transfusion, during labor and sexual contact.

How do I know if I’ve been infected by the Zika virus?
Unfortunately, many people, 80% to be exact, exposed to the virus don’t get symptoms at all and when symptoms do occur, they come several days to several weeks after exposure. Symptoms of the Zika virus include: fever, headache, rash, sore joints, conjunctivitis, stomach pain and an overall feeling of general discomfort. At this point, there is no effective treatment available for Zika infection, but over-the-counter fever or pain medication can be helpful for symptom relief.

What can I do to prevent getting the Zika virus?
Because there is no vaccine to prevent Zika, the best way to avoid getting infected is to avoid being bitten in any of the areas where Zika virus has been found. A list of recommendations from the CDC include:

- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
- Stay in places with air conditioning and use door screens to keep mosquitoes outside
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents
- If you have a baby or child:

    • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months of age.
    • Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs, or
    • Cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
    • Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin.
    • Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.

Because it is impossible to completely prevent mosquito bites, the CDC has also advised pregnant women to avoid going to regions where Zika is being transmitted, and has advised women thinking of becoming pregnant to talk with a doctor before going.

Is it safe to get pregnant after traveling to a country with Zika virus?
The Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week. Therefore, if you got pregnant later, it's unlikely that you'd transmit the virus to your fetus..

I am pregnant and recently visited a country with Zika virus. What now?
Recently, the CDC issued new guidelines that recommend pregnant women who’ve lived in or traveled to a country with Zika see a doctor on whether or not they've experienced any common symptoms of the virus or to talk about any other questions you may have.

Overall, it’s important to note that there is still a lot that needs to be learned about the Zika virus.  Rather than going straight to panic mode, set up an appointment with your doctor, or call one up on Amwell, stay informed and take precautions as able.

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