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Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

By: Amanda Mhoon, Pharm.D.

The hot topic in the news related to healthcare right now is the Zika Virus.  You can’t turn on the news without hearing something about it.  The World Health Organization has deemed it a “global health threat” and the CDC has issued travel notices for people travelling to affected countries.  Those areas currently include Mexico, South America, Africa, and Asia.  Since Spring Break is coming up and summer vacations are right around the corner, there are some things you need to know.

The Basics on the Zika Virus

  • Zika is a virus that is spread to people through mosquito bites.
  • Symptoms include: fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain, headache
  • Illness usually lasts several days to a week and is mild in most cases. Severe disease and hospitalization are not common.
  • There is not a vaccine to prevent Zika virus disease.
  • Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite mostly during the daytime.
  • Mosquito bite prevention is the best way to prevent Zika.
  • Treatment includes: rest, fluids, non-steroidal pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).
  • Zika virus usually remains in the blood for about 1 week so mosquito bite prevention is important during this time. That way other mosquitoes that bite don’t become infected and then pass it to other people.
  • The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillian-Barre syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes. Additional studies are needed to further understand the risks of Zika virus during pregnancy and the link to birth defects.

Tips for Preventing Mosquito Bites

  • Use EPA registered insect repellents that contain DEET as recommended on the label. They are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women.
  • Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning or window and door screens to keep mosquitos outside. If sleeping outside, use a mosquito bed net.
  • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months. Dress children/babies in clothing that covers the arms and legs and cover cribs and strollers with mosquito netting.  For children’s faces, adults should spray repellent onto their hands and then apply to the child’s face.
  • Sunscreen should be applied before insect repellent.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin.

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Zika Virus and Pregnancy

The travel warnings issued are especially important for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant since there are reports that have linked Zika virus to microcephaly.  Microcephaly is a birth defect that causes the baby’s head to be smaller than expected.  While some babies with microcephaly are of normal intelligence others can have developmental delays, difficulties with coordination and balance, dwarfism or short stature, facial distortions, hyperactivity, mental retardation, and /or seizures.  The CDC recommends that pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to area where there is Zika virus.  If they are going to travel they should strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.  This also includes women who may become pregnant.

Since the Zika virus remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week the virus does not appear to cause problems in a baby that is conceived after the virus has cleared from the blood.  There are not enough studies to determine what trimester is most affected if a person gets Zika while pregnant.  Also, we do not know if a newborn that gets Zika at birth will develop microcephaly after birth.  This is why mosquito bite prevention is so important.

What is being done about the Zika Virus in the U.S.?

The White House has requested 1.8 billion dollars to fight the Zika Virus.  The CDC’s Emergency Operations Center has been moved to Level 1, which means the staff will work around the clock to work on a critical emergency.  This is the highest level of activation.  To put this in perspective, the other times Level 1 has been activated were to combat Ebola, to combat H1N1 influenza in 2009, and after Hurricane Katrina.   According to the CDC, they will continue surveillance for the virus in the U.S. to identify an outbreak early on, conduct studies to further clarify the link between the virus and birth defects, work to develop different tests to diagnose people, and work on multiple fronts to stop the Zika virus.

Information will change over time as we learn more about Zika virus.  You can contact any of our pharmacists at Collier’s to discuss the virus and ways to protect yourself from it.   Also, we can provide written information on the topic if needed.

For more information visit:

CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/

World Health Organization website: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/