The Zika virus continues to make headlines as it spreads through Latin America and the Caribbean. The Zika virus has been linked to illness, temporary paralysis and birth defects. Dr. Luis Ostrosky, infectious disease expert with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, answered our questions about the Zika virus and how to keep you and your family safe.
Q. What is the Zika virus and how is it spread?
Zika virus is an RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus of the family Flaviviridae, a family of viruses that contains other viruses such as the ones that cause dengue and yellow fever. The Zika virus is spread by bites from a common mosquito species called Aedes, which is prevalent in many parts of the world, including the U.S.
Q. Why have I never heard of it before and now it seems like it’s everywhere?
According to the CDC, “Outbreaks of Zika have occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas. Because the Aedes species mosquitoes that spread Zika virus are found throughout the world, it is likely that outbreaks will spread to new countries. In December 2015, Puerto Rico reported its first confirmed Zika virus case. Locally transmitted Zika has not been reported elsewhere in the United States, but cases of Zika have been reported in returning travelers.”
Q. How do I know if I have been infected? What are the signs and symptoms?
The signs and symptoms of Zika virus infection are fever, malaise, fatigue, joint pain and rash, although the majority of infected people don’t even experience these. You should seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms after traveling to one of the affected areas.
Q. Is there a treatment for the Zika virus?
Currently there is no treatment for or vaccination against the Zika virus.
Q. Should people in the U.S. be worried about contracting the Zika virus?
All cases in the US have been reported from returning travelers. There is no evidence that this virus is being transmitted in the US. Travelers to any of the affected areas should seek advice from a travel medicine specialist to become familiar with preventive measures for mosquito-borne diseases.
Q. What precautions should pregnant women follow?
Due to the possible association with microcephaly, a congenital condition of incomplete brain development in newborn babies, pregnant women are currently being advised to postpone travel to affected areas.
Q. Is there a way to avoid getting infected? Are there certain countries I should avoid traveling to?
Please visit a travel medicine specialist or the CDC website for a list of affected countries and recommended precautions for travelers.