The Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

There has been a lot of coverage in the news on the Zika virus, especially as it relates to the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Fortunately, for most of us, the risk of exposure and infection is extremely low. Hopefully, the information that follows will help reduce any “Zika-related anxiety”!

What is Zika and how is it transmitted?
Zika is a virus that is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito of the Aedes species, which live mainly in tropical areas like the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America. The virus can be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her developing baby during pregnancy and around the time of birth. Sexual transmission has also been reported. 

Who is at risk of being infected?
You are at greatest risk if you have not already been infected and travel to or live in the following places: the Caribbean, Central and South America, Mexico, and the Pacific Islands. Also, you are at risk if you have had sex without a condom (vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, oral sex) with a man who traveled to or lived in an area with Zika. 

Can or will Zika spread to the United States?
So far, there has been a total of 15 cases of sexually transmitted Zika infections in the U.S. There have been about 400 known cases of Zika-affected pregnancies all of these women were in Zika-affected areas while pregnant. 

What are the symptoms of Zika infection?
The good news is that if you do become infected with Zika, you will most likely have no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you might have a slight fever, a rash, joint aches, headache, muscle aches, or red eyes. Symptoms typically last 3-7 days. And while researchers have not proved this, they strongly suspect that once you’ve had Zika, you are immune to all future infections. 

How does Zika affect me if I’m pregnant when I get infected?
Zika infection in pregnancy has been associated with poor fetal brain development as well as impaired growth and hearing and vision problems. When a woman is pregnant, her best bet is to avoid Zika areas altogether. If this is not possible, she should use insect repellents that contain either DEET, picardin, or IR3535 as one of the main ingredients. These are safe in pregnancy when used according to the product label. 

What should I do if I think I have been exposed to Zika?
If you have Zika-like symptoms and have been to an area where Zika is common, or if you have had sex without a condom with a man who may be infected, you should go see your healthcare provider. There is special testing that can be done to determine if you have Zika.

The good news is that Zika is quite rare in the United States. The best way to avoid getting Zika is to not travel to the common Zika areas. If you must travel to these areas, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitos out, and use insect repellant with either DEET, picardin, or IR3535 as the main ingredient. 

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