Zika Virus FAQs

Dr. Ritu Sharma discusses the most common questions and concerns she’s received from her patients regarding the ZIka Virus. Over the last few months there has been a lot of press about Zika infections, but the information is incomplete or sensationalized. Below is a list of these frequently asked questions.

 

1. What is Zika?

Zika is a viral infection that has been around since the 1940’s. It gets transmitted through mosquito bites, sexual contact, and pregnant mothers can pass it to their unborn babies.

 

2. Where is Zika found?

The most common places Zika has been found are in areas of South America, the Caribbean, and some Pacific Islands. This is a list of the countries that have been infected:

  • Argentina
  • Aruba
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Bolivia
  • Bonaire
  • Brazil
  • Cape Verde
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Curacao
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Fiji
  • French Guiana
  • Grenada
  • Guadeloupe
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Jamaica
  • Kosrae (Federated States of Micronesia
  • Marshall Islands
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • New Caledonia
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Saba
  • Samoa
  • Saint Barthelemy
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Martin
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Sint Eustatius
  • Sint Maarten
  • Suriname
  • Tonga
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Venezuel

 

3. How did Zika become such a big problem?

 

Scientists found Zika has been around for over 50 years in Asia and Africa. Throughout those years the symptoms were very mild and the people in those areas developed immunity to the disease.

Around 2007, Zika started to spread west. In 2015 doctors started to notice babies being born with Microcephaly, which is an abnormal brain growth causing a small head. This is when doctors started to study Zika further.

The reason this is happening in South America, the Caribbean, and Pacific Islands is due to the lack of immunity developed by pregnant mothers in those areas.

 

4. What are the symptoms of Zika?

 

Most people will have symptoms within 2 to 14 days after being exposed. These are the most common symptoms to look out for:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Pain in hands and feet
  • Redness in your eyes

 

5. Can I die from Zika?

 

There are no reports of deaths or even hospitalizations due to Zika in adults. Only babies exposed to Zika before birth have died. Visit the Centers for Disease Control to keep yourself updated and informed.

 

6. What do I do if I have to travel to a country with Zika?

 

If you have plans to conceive a child or becoming pregnant within the next 6 months, it is in your best interest to cancel your trip. There are some precautions you should take if you must travel:

  • Avoid having any unprotected sex
  • Most importantly avoid mosquito bites

 

7. How can I avoid mosquito bites?

 

Stay indoors – Try to stay indoors as much as possible. If you’re in a hot area you should use air conditioning when inside if it is available to you.

Long clothing – If you have to go outside wear long sleeves and pants.

Mosquito repellants – Make sure to use mosquito repellants and also spray the clothes you’re wearing. Spray the repellant into your hands and apply it to your face. These repellants should be safe for children over 2 months old as well. Double check the label on the repellant you’ll be using. You can use any repellant that contains the following active ingredients:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • Oil of Lemom Eucalyptus
  • PMD
  • IR3535

 

8. What is the testing for Zika?

 

Testing is done on your blood and urine. The results are more accurate if tested within 2 weeks of the symptoms. You may also need to be tested for Dengue and Chikungunya based on those symptoms. If you feel like you have these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Test results often take several weeks to come back.

 

9. Can I be tested even if I don’t have any symptoms?

 

All testing has to be approved by your local health department. You need to be seen by your primary care physician and then evaluated for testing approval.

 

10. What is the treatment for Zika?

 

There are no specific medications to fight Zika. If you have Zika you should avoid dehydration and make sure you’re drinking lots of fluids. You can also use Tylenol for pain and fever relief, but avoid NSAIDs such as Aspirin and Ibuprofen in case you are infected with Dengue. Most people will feel better within one week.

 

11. What is the risk of Zika during pregnancy?

 

Along with Microcephaly, there are also eye defects, hearing loss, and potential fetal death.

 

12. How does Zika affect babies?

 

Babies exposed to Zika during pregnancy will need to have several eye and ear exams as well as constant monitoring as he/she grows and develops.

If a baby wasn’t born with exposure to Zika during the pregnancy phase they can have the same mild symptoms as adults and don’t need to be monitored for growth defects.

 

13. Can being exposed to Zika affect my pregnancies in the future?

 

If you’re a woman who has the Zika symptoms or not, you should wait at least 8 weeks after being in a Zika Endemic area before trying to get pregnant.

If you’re a man, then you should wait 6 months before trying to conceive a child. The virus lives longer in semen.

 

14. How can we avoid Zika from spreading locally?

 

Keep areas around your home clear of any standing water, such as birdbaths or even flower pots that collect a lot of water. You can also spray areas with insecticide to kill off any larvae or eggs.

Author
Ray Santos, MD and Ritu Sharma, MD

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