Zika virus can have devastating implications for pregnant women
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency, only the fourth time it has declared this state, prompted by growing concern that it is causing microcephaly, the development of unusually small heads and brain damage in newborns.
While there has not been many instances of Zika in the last few years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to urge pregnant women who are travelling abroad to protect themselves.
Zika is transmitted primarily through mosquitoes bites
The virus is transmitted primarily to people through the bite of an infected mosquito from the Aedes genus, mainly Aedes aegypti in tropical regions. These are the same type of mosquitoes found in several parts of the United States, including Louisiana.
While cases of transmission have been documented primarily through mosquito bites, transmission of the virus has also been linked to blood transfusions, perinatally from mother to unborn child (the big scare), and sexually transmitted during intercourse. The virus can be transmitted in the urine, saliva, and semen for about 30 days after infection.
People infected with the Zika virus typically have symptoms that are relatively mild. Only one of five people infected with the virus develop symptoms, which can include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. Those infected usually do not have to be hospitalized. The virus does not appear to linger in the body, and people who recover from the infection are immune.
If you suspect you may have the Zika virus, avoid further mosquito bites. During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.
How to avoid exposure
If you are either pregnant or undergoing treatment, avoid trips to areas of active Zika transmission. You can check this on the CDC’s website. The most dangerous time of exposure is thought to be during the first trimester of pregnancy, although experts are still researching how the virus enters the placenta and damages the growing brain of the fetus. Communicate with your doctor if you feel you or your partner may have been exposed during treatment.
There is no vaccine for the Zika virus, so infection prevention is key. Avoid mosquitoes by wearing long shirts and pants, staying indoors in places with air conditioning or window and door screens, and using mosquito repellents with DEET. Also, dispose or treat any areas of free standing water where mosquitoes breed.