Zika Virus: What Parents Need to Know
With all of the coverage in the news about the Zika virus lately, it is understandable that parents have questions. Here are the facts you need to know about this virus.
What is Zika?
Zika is a virus that can cause the following symptoms:
- Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
- Joint pain
Symptoms usually clear up in less than a week, are mild, and rarely require hospitalization. However, because the disease affects people differently, only 1 in 5 of those infected will have symptoms.
On February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency as it continues to investigate whether clusters of microcephaly (babies born with a small head) and other birth defects are linked to the Zika virus. It is currently not known if the increase in microcephaly cases is directly caused by Zika. See Possible Association Between Zika Virus Infection and Microcephaly.
How Does Zika Spread?
Mosquitoes can carry Zika from person to person. If a pregnant woman is infected, the Zika virus can be transmitted to her baby while she is pregnant or around the time of birth. Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite both indoors and outdoors, mostly during the daytime.
Men who live in or have traveled to areas where the Zika virus is spreading should use condoms during sex with a pregnant partner or abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy. Even if their partner is not pregnant, men may want to consider taking such steps. Researchers do not yet know how long the virus stays in semen. See Interim Guidelines for Prevention of Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still is reviewing data on whether the virus can be transmitted through saliva and urine and is not making a recommendation related to those fluids at this time. The American Association of Blood Banks and Red Cross are asking people not to donate blood within 28 days of traveling to affected areas.
Until more is known about the Zika virus, the CDC has specific warnings for women and women trying to become pregnant.
- Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.
- Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
- Pregnant women who have traveled to such areas where the Zika virus is spreading should be tested within two to 12 weeks even if they don't show symptoms.
- Women trying to become pregnant or who are thinking about becoming pregnant should talk with their doctor before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.
The best way to prevent getting infected with Zika virus in areas where it is found is to take the following steps to avoid mosquito bites:
- Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants or clothing made of permethrin. When possible, choose clothing made with thicker fabric as mosquitos can bite through thin cloth.
- Use insect repellents. Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding can and should choose EPA-registered insect repellents and use them according to their product labels.
- Stay and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms, or use a mosquito bed net (a permethrin treated bed net is best).
Check CDC's Zika Travel Information website frequently for the most up-to-date recommendations.
There are no vaccines or treatment currently available to prevent or treat Zika infection. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the country's medical research agency, is conducting research to better understand Zika's effects on the body, to develop tests that can quickly identify the virus in people, and to find treatments that might be effective.
The NIH is working quickly to find answers that Americans and people across the globe need in the face of this rapidly emerging infectious disease.