What is Zika?

Zika is a virus carried by the Aedes mosquito. Symptoms typically last a week and include fever, joint pain, rash, conjunctivitis, headache, and muscle pain. Only one in five infected people will experience symptoms.

Treatment includes getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and taking acetaminophen to relieve acute pain and fever. The illness is usually mild; severe disease is uncommon, and deaths are rare.

Who is at risk?

Only people who have traveled to a Zika-affected area are at risk. The virus can be transmitted only by a mosquito bite from the Aedes mosquito, which lives in tropical and subtropical areas. This species of mosquito is not typically found as far north as West Virginia. Spread of the virus through blood transfusions and sexual contact has been confirmed, and according to the CDC, the Zika virus will continue to spread. However, it will be difficult to determine how and where it will spread over time.

Why should pregnant women avoid Zika?

A link has been found between women contracting the Zika virus while pregnant, with or without symptoms, and their children being born with microcephaly, a condition where the head and brain do not develop correctly, leading to a visibly small head and severe intellectual and physical handicaps. While this link is not fully understood, women who are pregnant or likely to become pregnant are discouraged from traveling to areas where the Zika virus is known to live.

Recommendations for pregnant women and or couples who may become pregnant include:

  • Avoid areas of outbreak, including southern Florida.
  • Use EPA-recommended insect repellents.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants.
  • Avoid standing water.
  • Use condoms and other barrier methods to protect against infection during sexual activity.
  • Abstain from sexual activity or use condoms for eight weeks after returning from travel to affected areas.
  • Men who experience Zika virus symptoms should practice abstinence or use condoms for at least six months after symptoms begin.
  • Women should practice abstinence or use condoms for at least eight weeks after symptoms begin.

Where is Zika found?

State health officials have confirmed several cases of Zika virus in West Virginia, though there are no reports of anyone becoming infected while in West Virginia. Locally transmitted cases have been reported in Florida. Imported cases, or cases in which a patient contracts the disease while traveling and is diagnosed when he or she returns, have been reported in 48 states.

The current outbreak of the Zika virus started in Brazil, and the virus is now active in Puerto Rico and 57 other countries or territories in the Americas, the Pacific Islands, Africa, and Asia.

When did it start?

The Zika virus was first discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947. For several decades the disease was seen only sporadically in Africa and Asia. In May 2015, the first cases transmitted in the Americas were reported in Brazil.

How do I avoid it?

Travelers intending to visit a tropical area should check the CDC website to see if their destination is affected by Zika and plan accordingly. Pregnant women are advised to not travel to Zika-affected areas at all. Other travelers should use bug spray, wear long sleeves and pants when possible, and sleep under a mosquito net if the sleeping area is not well enclosed. These suggestions are advisable to ward off not only Zika but also dengue fever and chikungunya, which are carried by the same mosquito.

Here in West Virginia, the risk of contracting the Zika virus is very low. The mosquitos here do not transmit Zika, but they do transmit other diseases such as West Nile and La Crosse encephalitis. Especially during mosquito season, from April until October, it’s a good idea to dump out any standing water in a pot or old tire where mosquitoes might lay eggs.

For the latest information on the Zika virus, visit http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.