To date, there have been over 350 travel-associated Zika virus disease cases reported in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We consulted a group of experts to help us compile a short A-Z index of everything you need to know about the Zika virus.

Aedes Mosquito

The Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. While there are more than 3,000 mosquito species, three types are primary responsible for the spread of human diseases. The Aedes mosquito—one of the key three—can transmit Zika, as well as yellow fever, dengue, and chikungunya.

Blood-borne

If you believe you have been infected, your doctor may order a specialized blood test for Zika, or other blood-borne viruses like dengue or chikungunya. It’s important to note that Zika is moving quickly from affected regions to other warm climates, resulting in a rapidly changing infection zone that has already reached the United States.

Conjunctivitis

Most people that contract the Zika virus will not experience symptoms. In fact, only one in five will develop a mild fever, rash, joint pain, and/or conjunctivitis lasting several days to a week. Conjunctivitis, is a common eye condition causing inflammation of the conjunctiva—the thin layer that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. Many viral causes of conjunctivitis clear without treatment or any long-term effects.

DEET

Residents and visitors to warm climates should add mosquito repellent to their daily regimens, applying liberally and at regular intervals. Use an insect repellent with the active ingredient DEET, which is safe for children as young as two months old. Long clothing, screens on windows, and air conditioning can also help protect against exposure to the carrier mosquito.

Evaluate

If you or your partner are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, evaluate your risk of contracting the disease with your physician. The virus may lead to severe birth defects or miscarriage. And while the correlation with Guillain-Barre—a rare and sometimes fatal affliction that can cause paralysis—is unconfirmed.

Find and eliminate mosquito breeding areas

This will include any areas around your home with standing water or garbage, like old tires and plant pots. Eliminate them to reduce mosquito breeding grounds.

Going to an infected area or country?

Take precautions. Make sure that you check with your doctor, wear long sleeves and pants, and avoid mosquito infected areas.

Highest risk

Those who are pregnant or may become pregnant are at the highest risk.

Infectious disease

Infectious diseases spread both through mosquito bites and sexual transmissions. In known cases of sexual transmission, the Zika virus can be spread by a man to his partner; however, we do not know if a woman can spread Zika to her sex partners.

Just 100 meters

The particular mosquito that carries the Zika virus only travels approximately 100 meters, meaning not very far. They will not fly from Central America to the United States, for example.

Kleber Luz

Dr. Kleber Luz works for the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil), where he specializes in infectious disease. Dr. Luz and colleagues were among the first to realize that a new disease had emerged in Brazil. They ran tests to rule out related viruses, including dengue and chikungunya, and then began exploring other options. Last June, Dr. Luz and his team published their findings in the journal Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, the Brazilian equivalent of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the CDC—and the world took notice.

The Lancet

In early 2016, The Lancet published the complete genome, or full genetic blueprint, of Zika virus from the Americas. This important step allowed scientists to pinpoint where the Zika virus circulating in South and Central America came from.

Microcephaly

There have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies of mothers who had Zika virus while pregnant. Microcephaly is a severe birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly.

Needle Sticks

Like all infectious agents that circulate in blood, there is potential for Zika to spread by blood transfusions, tissue donation, or needle sticks. There have not been any documented cases of Zika transmission between a patient and a health care worker; however, this potential should be carefully considered when drawing blood from suspected patients.

Optic Nerve

There has been a lot of discussion of infants born with microcephaly. An additional complication experienced by infants born to Zika-infected mothers that has not been discussed as frequently is the damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits images observed by the eye to the brain, allowing us to perceive what we see. Will the observed damage leave these infants blind? It is not yet known.

Pregnancy

Pregnant women traveling to countries with an outbreak of Zika should be evaluated if they experience symptoms of the disease. If testing is negative for the virus, they should receive routine prenatal care, including an ultrasound at 18-20 weeks of gestation to check the fetal anatomy. Additional ultrasounds may be recommended later in the pregnancy to assess the cranial and brain development.

Questions

Most questions about Zika can be answered by going to the CDC website. Some organizations, such as the Public Health Agency of Canada, are recommending travelers speak with a travel health specialist at a travel clinic before they go to a Zika-affected area.

Repellents

The only way to prevent Zika is to not give the mosquitoes the opportunity to come in contact with humans. The CDC recommends the use of EPA-registered repellents. Products with DEET, picardin, and IR3535 provide long-lasting protection. Clothing that covers the arms and legs should be worn. Premetherin products can be sprayed on clothing to offer extra mosquito protection. Label instructions should be followed. The cuffs of pants and shirts should have special attention, as the mosquitos access the skin by coming through any opening.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes. Symptoms also may include muscle pain and headache. If pregnant, and these symptoms occur within 2 weeks after traveling to an area with Zika, a health care provider should be contacted.

Treatment

Zika is treated like the flu with rest, fluids, and Tylenol for the fever and body aches. Hospitalization is uncommon.

Ultrasounds

Ultrasounds of a developing fetus are used to screen for changes potentially caused by Zika, such as abnormal calcifications or microcephaly.

Vaccine

There is no vaccine for the Zika virus.

Water

Water in receptacles such as old tires and bird baths can serve as breeding sites for the Aedes mosquito, which carries the virus.

X-rays

X-rays are not part of the routine evaluation of Zika.

Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever is another disease spread by the same mosquito as Zika. The virus that causes yellow fever is also in the same family of viruses as Zika.

Zika

The virus is named for a forest in Uganda where the virus was first identified in 1947.

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Terah Shelton Harris

Terah Shelton Harris

Terah Shelton Harris is a freelance writer based in Alabama, specializing in health, business, and women's issues.
Terah Shelton Harris

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