It was only a matter of time. On July 29, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced the first 4 cases of Zika virus that were acquired through the bite of the Aedes mosquito here in the United States (Florida to be exact), and on August 1st, another 10 cases were added to that total. These cases were all traced back to a small area of Miami-Dade county (click here to see a map showing this specific area). Until this announcement, there were 1,658 cases of Zika virus diagnosed here in the US, but all of these cases had been acquired outside of the US. As of July 21, 2016, there have been 13 babies born with birth defects as well as 6 pregnancy losses that have been attributed to Zika virus in the US. But with this most recent information, Zika has arrived in mosquitoes in the US. As I said, it was just a matter of time.
It is our interconnected global society that makes the journey of mosquito borne illnesses possible.
You may recall from my prior article about Zika (you can click here to for a quick refresher), but since May 2015, the Zika virus has become an epidemic throughout much South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. It is our interconnected global society that makes the journey of mosquito borne illnesses possible. It is believed that someone who had been infected with the Zika virus abroad was then bitten by an Aedes mosquito here in the US which then allowed the virus to be transmitted to the next unsuspecting person bitten by that mosquito.
Here is what we do know about the Zika virus:
- Zika is most commonly transmitted by the bite of the Aedes species of mosquito which tends to bite throughout the day and not just at dusk or dawn (like the Culex mosquito that carries West Nile Virus)
- 80% of people infected with Zika will have absolutely no idea that they have a virus
- Those that do have symptoms will typically have a mild illness with symptoms such as fever, rash, red eyes and joint pain
- It is now known that Zika virus can also be transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse. Researchers are trying to determine how long this virus will remain in semen or vaginal fluids and therefore would be considered “infectious.”
- In rare cases, this virus may cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which is an autoimmune related neurologic disease that may lead to paralysis.
If a pregnant woman becomes infected with Zika, there is an increased risk of birth defects, namely microcephaly which means a small head with a typically underdeveloped brain, as well as an increased risk of pregnancy loss.
So who then really needs to worry about the Zika virus? Pregnant women…they really are the only population where the bite of this mosquito could have significant consequences. If a pregnant woman becomes infected with Zika, there is an increased risk of birth defects, namely microcephaly which means a small head with a typically underdeveloped brain, as well as an increased risk of pregnancy loss. Millions of dollars are going towards trying to determine when in pregnancy a Zika virus infection has these devastating outcomes, but as of this posting, the verdict is still out. It is also important for pregnant women to realize that during their pregnancy, they should not have unprotected sex with anyone who has traveled to areas with Zika virus transmission since this virus can be transmitted through sexual intercourse.
I have been asked by many parents if they need to worry about Zika virus in kiddos. The answer is no…not more than you would worry about other mosquito illnesses in kids. Based on what we know about Zika virus so far, it does not cause any development or growth concerns in infants or children (at least those outside of the mother’s womb).
What are we still trying to learn about the Zika virus? Well, that list is a bit longer…
- At what point during pregnancy does the virus cause birth defects?
- How long can the Zika virus be transmitted through sexual activity?
- How long after visiting a place with Zika virus should women wait to try to become pregnant?
- Once you have had the Zika virus, do you have lifelong protection from getting the virus again?
- Will there be travel warnings for pregnant women coming soon for places here in the US, namely Florida at this time?
- What is the chance of local transmission of Zika virus spreading further around the US?
- Is is possible that a vaccine could prevent this virus?
While no one wants to put off vacation to a tropical paradise in the Caribbean, the possible risks for your unborn child associated with Zika virus are high enough to warrant concern and consideration.
As researchers are working to find answers to these and many more question, there are several important reminders when it comes to protecting yourself and your family from Zika virus. First, I would encourage all pregnant women and those who are thinking about becoming pregnant to check out the CDC website for the most up to date travel advisories. While no one wants to put off vacation to a tropical paradise in the Caribbean, the possible risks for your unborn child associated with Zika virus are high enough to warrant concern and consideration. You can click here to get to the CDC website.
If you live in or are traveling to an area where local transmission of Zika virus is occurring, make sure to protect yourself from the bite of mosquitos by doing the following:
- For those over 2 months of age, use DEET or picaridin containing insect repellents (more on these in my next blog post)
- Wear lightweight long sleeves and pants when outside. Clothing that has been treated with permethrin can also provide protection.
- If doing any lodging outdoors, make sure to use mosquito netting around your sleeping environment.
With the first cases of locally acquired Zika virus here in the US, I think Zika will once again dominate the headlines in the upcoming weeks. There will likely be new information about this virus coming in at a feverish pace given all the money being allocated to Zika research, so certainly stay tuned. And remember, pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant are the groups the really need to be on highest alert for this tiny virus transmitted by a pesky little mosquito.