A previously little known virus is causing a great deal of concern in many areas of the world. Spread by mosquitoes, the Zika virus infection in a pregnant female may result in babies born with microcephaly, a dangerous neurological disorder. The virus has already spread to more than forty countries, including the United States. Some of these countries have also reported cases of sexually transmitted Zika virus infection.
Pregnant Women Need to be Cautious
Symptoms of the Zika virus are mild, including fever, headache, rash and possibly conjunctivitis (pink eye). Many of those infected may be unaware that they have the virus because many infections can occur without any symptoms. The main danger of the Zika virus is to pregnant women. This infection during pregnancy has been linked to an increased incidence of microcephaly, a disorder that results in babies born with abnormally small heads and other developmental issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning pregnant women and couples considering pregnancy against traveling to areas that have an outbreak of the Zika virus infection and this now includes Miami Beach, Florida. In addition, the CDC is asking OB-Gyn physicians to review fetal ultrasounds and do maternal testing for any pregnant woman who has traveled to one of the countries listed where the Zika virus is present.
Virus Also Linked to Guillain-Barre Syndrome
There is current research that suggests that some people who are infected with the Zika virus also get Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a sickness of the peripheral nervous system. Fortunately, this happens to only a small proportion of people who contract Zika. GBS is a serious illness and can be fatal in some instances, although most people fully recover.
Travelers Need to be Aware of the Zika Virus
As of August 31st, according to the CDC, the Zika virus is currently being locally transmitted in the Miami-Dade County of Florida in the United States as well as areas in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Central America, Pacific Islands, South America, Cape Verde, Mexico, and Singapore in Southeast Asia. The virus arrived in the United States via travelers returning from these infected areas. Interestingly, there has been a decreasing trend in the number of cases in Central America over the last four weeks, but an increase in the number of new cases in Florida. In previous years, outbreaks of the Zika virus have also been recorded in Africa, Asia and the Pacific region. For the latest updates on Zika travel warnings in areas outside the continental United States, please visit this CDC web page: wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-information
Mosquito Protection Measures are the Best Defense
Patients become infected with the virus when a mosquito bites a person with an active infection and then spreads the virus by biting other people. The CDC has also noted some documented cases of virus transmission in pregnancy, through blood transfusion and laboratory exposure. Many countries including the United States have also reported sexually transmitted infections of the Zika virus.
There is currently no specific medication or vaccine available. The most important preventive strategy to protect oneself against the Zika virus is to avoid travel to areas that have active ongoing infections. If you must travel to a country or area where Zika virus infection is present, the CDC advises strict adherence to mosquito protection measures. These include using an EPA-approved insect repellent over sunscreen, wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts that are thick enough to block a mosquito bite, as well as sleeping in rooms that are screened and can prevent the infiltration of mosquitoes and sleeping under mosquito nets. Keep in mind that the mosquito that carries the Zika virus is known to be an aggressive mosquito and prefers to bite in the daytime and also in indoor areas.
Scientists are already working on developing a vaccine against Zika, but it is believed that an effective vaccine is some time away. That is why preventing infection needs to be a top priority.
If you have any concerns that you or a loved one may have been exposed to the Zika virus, please consult with your medical provider. You can learn more about the Zika virus here: www.cdc.gov/zika/
About Alwyn Rapose, MD
Originally from India, Dr. Alwyn Rapose now enjoys practicing medicine in Massachusetts. He completed his Internal Medicine residency at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester and liked the experience so much that he stayed on board for another year as Chief Resident. He then completed his Infectious Disease fellowship at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.
Dr. Rapose felt that Reliant Medical Group was a good fit...View profile View posts by this doctor