With any disease outbreak, especially one that causes concern for the wellbeing of mothers-to-be, our office begins receiving calls for information. Here's some current information to help you stay educated about this developing issue:
The Zika Virus was first isolated by scientists at the East African Virus Research Institute in Entebbe, Uganda in 1952.
1 Since then, it has mostly been observed in monkeys infected by mosquitos carrying the virus. Confirmed incidents of Zika in humans were relatively rare up until 2007 when an island in Micronesia suffered an epidemic of it. The next major outbreak occurred in French Polynesia in 2013-2014. The virus then began to spread more rapidly as it was carried by infected tourists/travelers. There has been a lot of debate around when it first entered South America, but its rapidity of transmission has caught the attention of world leaders and, of course, the media.
The Zika virus was considered to be relatively benign before it began its great spread in the past few years. Those with the Zika virus are often unaware that they have it due to its mildness. Possible symptoms include a mild fever, joint/muscle pain, eye irritation, skin spots, lymph node enlargement, and/or a headache lasting only a few days to a week.2,3 It is also considered likely that once a person has been infected, they will be protected from future reinfection.
The danger of the Zika virus lies in its likely effects on developing babies. In 2015, Brazilian scientists began noticing an increased mortality rate for infants, due to neurological problems, in women who had tested positive for the virus during pregnancy.2 Once alerted, scientists from other infected regions began paying special attention to pregnant women, pregnancy records, and infant outcomes. The data collected appears to show a significant increase in several neurological issues in expectant mothers infected with the Zika virus. Although other agents have been investigated as possible causes for the sudden increase in malformations, the growing mass of evidence points to the virus as the common denominator.
The CDC recommends that women who are pregnant or may become pregnant
avoid traveling near infected areas
and for all people to take extra precautions against mosquito bites although mosquitos carrying the virus are not yet believed to exist in this country. If travel to affected regions is unavoidable, it is imperative that you take measures to safeguard your health. Specific guidelines for traveling pregnant women can be found here: CDC - Interim Guidlines for Pregnant Women
According to the CDC, as of April 20
, 2016, there have been no reported cases of locally acquired Zika virus within the United States. All known cases have been associated with travel to high-risk areas. Of these 388 cases, 33 infected individuals were pregnant, and 1 baby was diagnosed with neurological malformations.4
The Zika virus is a mosquito borne pathogen, however, as a result of recent studies, scientists believe it can also be sexually transmitted. In several cases, Zika has been found present in semen samples collected after men infected with the virus complained of hematospermia (blood in their semen). Viruses with a similar nature to Zika have been known to be transmissible by urine and semen from infected individuals even after the virus was cleared from the bloodstream.5 Further studies are needed, but until then, sexual abstinence is recommended if there is a chance of infection.
If you have been at risk during travel and experience any of the symptoms above, it is important that you report to your doctor regardless of whether you are pregnant. Testing for the virus is performed through CDC facilities and some state health departments as there is not yet a commercially available test. So far, there is not a vaccine for this virus and avoiding high-risk areas and monitoring your symptoms after possible exposure is the surest way to protect yourself and others. For more information, as well as maps of the areas currently reporting outbreaks, please see the links below.
1. "Zika Virus."
Emerging Infectious Diseases 20.6 (2014): 1090. Print.
2. Lopes MH, Miyaji KT, and Infante V. "Zika Virus." Revista Da Associação Médica Brasileira (1992) 62.1 (2016): 4-9. Print.
3. "Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Mar. 2016. Web. 26 Apr. 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/zika/symptoms/index.html
4. Zika Virus Disease in the United States, 2015-2016." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Mar. 2016. Web. 26 Apr. 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/united-states.html
5. Musso, Didier, et al. "Potential Sexual Transmission Of Zika Virus." Emerging Infectious Diseases 21.2 (2015): 359-361. Military & Government Collection. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.