Zika: There's a New Virus in Town

Zika virus spreading in tropics and subtropics, may spread to US

(RxWiki News) Mosquitoes aren't just a pesky nuisance on warm summer days — many carry disease. And the newest of these mosquito-borne diseases is Zika virus.

Although similar to the more dangerous viruses that cause dengue and yellow fever, Zika doesn't cause serious problems in most people who are infected. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is worried about the potential for birth defects and miscarriage in pregnant women infected with Zika.

So far, Zika outbreaks have only occurred in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and South America. But, because the mosquitoes that carry Zika are distributed throughout the world, the CDC expects more cases of Zika will occur. The first confirmed case of Zika in Puerto Rico occurred in Dec. 2015.

As of Jan. 26, no cases of Zika transmission have been reported in the US, but one patient who contracted the virus in Brazil returned to Hawaii and gave birth to a baby with birth defects, reports Reuters.

Some people who are infected with Zika have no symptoms. Others have fever, rash, joint aches and red eyes. Symptoms usually last about a week. Severe symptoms that require hospitalization are unusual and the disease is rarely fatal.

Pregnant women infected with Zika may be at an increased risk of miscarriage, however, according to the CDC.

Brazil, one of the countries with increasing Zika infection rates, has also seen a sharp increase in babies born with a birth defect called microcephaly (baby's head is smaller than expected). In this condition, the head and brain do not develop properly. It is often fatal.

Health experts don't yet know whether Zika is connected to microcephaly or causes the condition.

The CDC recommends women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant avoid traveling to areas where Zika is active. If travel is unavoidable, women should take extra steps to protect themselves from mosquitoes.

Although pregnant women are at the highest risk of serious complications, anyone can become infected with Zika.

Protect yourself from mosquitoes by wearing long sleeves and pants if you go outside. Use a mosquito repellent and reapply periodically if you stay outside. Screened windows and doors can help protect you indoors.

There is currently no vaccine or treatment available for Zika. Lab tests can identify Zika infection, but this test is not yet commercially available.

Symptomatic treatment to reduce fever and joint aches, and plenty of rest and fluids are typically recommended. Pregnant women who become infected with Zika should use acetaminophen rather than aspirin, according to the CDC. They should also see a healthcare provider if they develop symptoms within two weeks of traveling to a country affected by Zika.

Doctors and other health professionals who suspect Zika infection in a patient are encouraged to report these cases to local public health departments and the CDC.

Review Date: 
January 20, 2016