In the past several weeks, increased cases of Zika virus disease (Zika) have been reported in South and Central America, and to a limited degree in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a US territory, and the US Virgin Islands. Zika is a little known illness spread by a certain type of mosquito. Although most people who may be exposed to Zika virus will have only mild or no symptoms, there has been evidence linking Zika virus to negative effects on pregnancies in some cases, which has received widespread public attention. We understand that this news is concerning, especially to pregnant women and their families who may travel to or live in affected areas. Here are some answers to common questions about Zika.
What is Zika?
The Zika virus is spread to people through the bite of infected mosquitos. About 1 in 5 people who get infected with Zika virus will show symptoms. Most of those who get sick experience only mild symptoms that last about a week. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes (conjunctivitis). It’s rare for someone infected with Zika to become seriously sick or die. Zika is not spread through routine direct person-to-person contact.
Zika and Pregnancy
While anyone can be infected with Zika, what makes it stand out from other mosquito-borne illnesses, is the effect it appears to have on pregnancy. We know that Zika can spread from a pregnant mother to her baby, and that infection during pregnancy may be linked to birth defects, such as a condition called microcephaly (when a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared with babies of the same sex and age). Our understanding of the link between Zika and pregnancy is evolving.
Because of the possible risk to unborn babies, CDC recommends that women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant consider postponing travel to areas with local Zika transmission. If you are pregnant and must travel to one of these areas, talk to your healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites. As we learn more about this disease, our guidance may change based on new information important for the public to know.
How to Protect Yourself from Zika
Because there are currently no vaccines or treatment for Zika, the best way to protect yourself is to prevent mosquito bites. You can do this by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and treating your clothing and other items with permethrin. Use an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellant as directed. You shouldn’t use insect repellant on babies younger than 2 months of age; instead, dress your baby in clothing that covers arms and legs and cover the crib, stroller, or baby carrier with mosquito netting.
If you’ve recently traveled to an area with Zika and develop a rash, joint pain, or red eyes, tell your doctor that you traveled to a country with Zika virus. Because the symptoms of Zika are similar to dengue and chikungunya, special blood tests may be needed.
If you get sick with Zika, make sure to get plenty of rest and fluids, and take medicines like acetaminophen or paracetamol to reduce fever and pain. Don’t take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. You can also prevent others from getting sick by avoiding mosquito bites during the first week of illness following the same steps outlined above, because Zika virus can stay in the blood during the first week of infection.
Zika in the Continental US?
Although Zika has been in the news recently, outbreaks of Zika have previously been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization issued an alert for the first confirmed infection in Brazil. Since then, local transmission of Zika virus has been reported in more than 20 other countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean. Because the mosquitoes that spread Zika are found throughout the tropics, outbreaks of the disease will likely continue.
Zika is currently not found in the continental United States, but cases of Zika have been reported in returning travelers. Because of the recent outbreaks in the Americas, we expect to see more cases of Zika in travelers visiting or returning to the United States. Many areas in the continental U.S., primarily in the Southeast and Gulf Coast regions, have mosquitoes that can become infected with and spread Zika virus, so it is possible that these imported cases could result in local spread of the virus in some areas of the United States. Limited local transmission may occur in the mainland United States, but we believe it is unlikely that we will see widespread transmission of Zika in the mainland United States. Recent outbreaks in the United States of chikungunya and dengue were quite small compared with outbreaks in South America.
Centers For Disease Control & Prevention – CDC.gov
- Mosquito Bite Prevention for the United States[PDF – 2 pages]
- Q&As: Zika and Pregnancy
- Travel Health Notices
- Microcephaly (http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/microcephaly.html)
- Interim Guidelines for Pregnant Women During a Zika Virus Outbreak
- 1/28/16 President Obama met with leaders of his health and national security teams to discuss the spread of Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses in the Americas as well as steps being taken to protect the American public. The President’s senior health advisors, including Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, and NIH/NIAID
WHO Director-General summarizes the outcome of the Emergency Committee on Zika
I convened an Emergency Committee, under the International Health Regulations, to gather advice on the severity of the health threat associated with the continuing spread of Zika virus disease in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Committee met today by teleconference.
In assessing the level of threat, the 18 experts and advisers looked in particular at the strong association, in time and place, between infection with the Zika virus and a rise in detected cases of congenital malformations and neurological complications.
The experts agreed that a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven. All agreed on the urgent need to coordinate international efforts to investigate and understand this relationship better.
The experts also considered patterns of recent spread and the broad geographical distribution of mosquito species that can transmit the virus.
The lack of vaccines and rapid and reliable diagnostic tests, and the absence of population immunity in newly affected countries were cited as further causes for concern.
After a review of the evidence, the Committee advised that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes an “extraordinary event” and a public health threat to other parts of the world.
In their view, a coordinated international response is needed to minimize the threat in affected countries and reduce the risk of further international spread.
Members of the Committee agreed that the situation meets the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.