What is Zika and should you be concerned?


Applying mosquito repellent

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Zika virus is not new. Outbreaks have occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. It is new in the Americas, however. Brazil reported the first case in May 2015, and since then, infections have occurred in at least 20 countries in the Americas. Puerto Rico reported the first locally transmitted infection in December 2015, and Zika cases are now being reported in the United States, all from returning travelers, reported CNN earlier last week. Despite these 20 cases, there have been no locally transmitted Zika cases reported in the continental United States. That's good news, for now.


What is it and how is it transmitted?

Zika has been called a milder form of dengue fever. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon, says the CDC.

It is spread to people through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes. Although it can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy, it is not otherwise transmitted person to person.

People are contracting Zika in areas where those Aedes mosquitoes are present. This includes South America, Central America, the Caribbean and the U.S. mainland.


Attention travelers

With the recent outbreaks, the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States will likely increase, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The organization adds that these imported cases could result in local spread of the virus in some areas of the United States. If an Aedes mosquito, which is present in the United States, bites an infected person and becomes infected, it can then transmit the disease to others. Still, the CDC says that as of right now, a widespread transmission of Zika in the mainland U.S. is unlikely.

CDC map of areas affected with Zika

So what should travelers do?

There is no vaccine yet, so the only thing travelers can do is avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes. The CDC suggests:

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Staying in places with air-conditioning or that use window and door screens, as well as netting to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Using Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellents. All EPA-registered insect repellents are evaluated for safety and effectiveness.
    • Always follow the product label instructions
    • Reapply insect repellent as directed.
    • Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
    • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
  • Treating clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.
    • Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See product information to learn how long the protection will last.
    • If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
    • Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing.
  • Sleeping under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.

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.
  • Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.


Why women who are pregnant are at risk

After the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil, the resulting outbreak there led to reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects, such as microcephaly — a rare congenital condition wherein babies are born with abnormally small heads, and which is, therefore, associated with incomplete brain development.

The CDC is working to determine whether Zika and GBS are related, and urges women who are pregnant to avoid travel to affected areas at all costs.



See your healthcare provider if you develop symptoms. Let your doctor know if you've traveled recently, especially if it was to an affected area. Your healthcare provider will likely order blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viral diseases like dengue or chikungunya.

Remember, there's no vaccine, so if you do have Zika, the CDC recommends:

  • Getting plenty of rest.
  • Drinking fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Taking medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain.

Do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. And if you are taking medicine for another condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.

During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another person via an infected mosquito. Since an infected mosquito can spread the virus to other people, it is especially important for an already infected person to avoid additional mosquito bites — particularly during the first week of the illness — to help prevent others from getting sick.