What is Zika Virus?
Zika is a single-stranded RNA virus. It belongs to a family of RNA viruses known as Flaviviruses. This group includes West Nile, Dengue, Hepatitis C, Yellow Fever and some encephalitis viruses.
How does Zika virus spread?
Like West Nile and Dengue, Zika virus can be transmitted indirectly from person to person by mosquito bites. Unlike these other diseases, Zika virus can also be transmitted sexually from both men and women. Non-sexual, direct person to person transmission has been described in at least one case.
Where did Zika virus come from?
Zika virus was first discovered in Uganda in 1947. For decades it remained a regional threat in the equatorial belt between Africa and Asia. Starting in 2013, the Zika virus was discovered in the South Pacific islands. Since that time it has spread throughout South America, Central America and the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico. There are now confirmed cases of Zika virus transmission in Miami, Florida.
What are the effects of Zika virus infection?
The effects of Zika virus infection vary quite a lot.
There are reports that the majority of individuals who become infected will experience little or no symptoms. (Even so, they still may be able to spread the virus to others even without symptoms.)
However, about one in five individuals can experience one or more of these symptoms: skin rash, mild fever, eye irritation, muscle and joint pain, malaise, or headache.
Pregnant women and their fetuses are especially at risk. Zika virus is associated with severe birth defects, such as microcephaly, which presents itself as an abnormally small head in babies. Pregnant women (or women that could become pregnant) are strongly urged to avoid mosquito bites or engaging in unprotected sex with partners who may have been exposed to the Zika virus.
Researchers are also investigating whether Zika virus causes long-term neurological problems in adults. There have been reports that a small percentage of patients with Zika virus subsequently become afflicted with Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system, causing muscle weakness or even temporary paralysis.
Other researchers are trying to correlate Zika virus infection with neurological conditions in the brains of adults that have a negative effect on long-term memory, or increase the risk of depression.
The Miami, Florida region is the first area in the continental United States where there have been confirmed cases of local Zika transmission. (Previous cases of Zika virus infection in the continental US were the result of infections acquired in overseas travel.) As of mid-August 2016, the state of Florida reported at least 37 cases of individuals contracting Zika virus in the neighborhoods in and around Miami. It’s likely this figure understates the transmission rate for two reasons: First, as most individuals will experience either no symptoms or very mild symptoms, they are less likely to report their cases to state health officials. Second, Florida health officials are only counting Florida residents in their statistics; they are actively excluding out-of-state residents or foreign visitors from their official Zika incident reports.
The CDC recommends that women who are or plan to become pregnant avoid travel to Latin America, the Caribbean as well as these Asian destinations: Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Maldives, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Zika transmission also occurs in the South Pacific islands, including Samoa, American Samoa, Fiji, and others
Take These Precautions
Avoid mosquito bites.
The mosquitoes that spread Zika virus – Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus – are aggressive daytime biters. They can also bite in the evening.
Protect yourself with a mosquito repellent that contains Picaridin or DEET as the active ingredient.
Control the mosquito population at your home, in your neighborhood and your office. Clear out trash, keep
grass cut short and eliminate standing water by emptying things like plant drip trays. Discarded tires are particularly problematic: they are an ideal breeding ground for mosquito larva. If you have a pond, you can add small goldfish which eat mosquito larvae or use mosquito dunks that float on the surface, releasing chemicals that inhibit mosquito larvae from developing.
In infected individuals, the Zika virus can remain in several body fluids, including male semen, female vaginal fluids, urine and blood. (To date, there are no reports of infants getting Zika virus or breast-feeding.)
It’s unknown how long the Zika virus remains active in each of these fluids, but it appears that Zika remains in semen longer than the other body fluids.
In September 2016, the CDC recommended men who have possibly been exposed to Zika virus (including travel to Zika affect areas) should avoid conceiving a child with their female partner until at least 6 months have passed.
In our view, individuals traveling to an area with active Zika virus transmissions should follow safer sex guidelines (e.g. use of condoms, dental dams, etc.) during their trip and for at least six months upon their return.
At present, there is no Zika virus vaccine available.
However, because Zika virus is similar to viruses that have successful vaccine programs, scientists are optimistic that one or more of the Zika virus vaccines currently under development will prove to be safe and effective in human clinical trials.
Make an Appointment
If you have reason to believe you could have been exposed to the Zika virus and are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, make an appointment with Dr. Brewton:
Muscle and Joint Pain