Zika Virus: 10 Things to Know

By on 12:44 PM

On January 15, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an official CDC Health Advisory on "Recognizing, Managing, and Reporting Zika Virus Infections in Travelers Returning from Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico."

What is the Zika virus and why should people in the United States be aware of this disease? Here are 10 things to know courtesy of the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO).

1. Zika is spread to people through mosquito bites. This is the same mosquito — from the Aedes genus, mainly Aedes aegypti in tropical regions — that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.

2. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. They usually last 2-7 days.

3. In May 2015, the World Health Organization reported the first local transmission of Zika in the Western Hemisphere, with autochthonous cases identified in Brazil. Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been reported previously in Africa, Asia, and islands in the Pacific. As of January 15, local transmission had been identified in at least 14 countries or territories in the Americas. They are as follows:
  • Barbados
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Cape Verde
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • French Guiana
  • Guadeloupe
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saint Martin
  • Samoa
  • Suriname
  • Venezuela

Spread to other countries in the region is likely.

4. Local transmission of Zika has not been documented in the continental United States. However, Zika virus infections have been reported in travelers returning to the United States.

5. Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States likely will increase. These imported cases may result in local spread of the virus in some areas of the United States, meaning imported cases may result in human-to-mosquito-to-human spread. 

6. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon. However, the outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.

7. CDC has issued a travel alert for people going to regions and certain countries where Zika transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women should consider postponing travel to any area where Zika is ongoing. Pregnant women who do travel to these areas should talk to their doctors or other healthcare providers first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.

8. Sexual conduct as a possible means of transferring the disease is being studied at present as cases continue to increase.

9. No vaccine exists to prevent Zika. The best method of prevention is to avoid mosquito bites. Mosquitoes that spread Zika bite mostly during the daytime. Insect repellents are typically safe and effective for everyone, including pregnant and nursing women, and most can be used on children. If you use both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first and then the repellent. Do not spray insect repellent on the skin under your clothing. When weather permits, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Help reduce the number of mosquitoes inside and outside your home or hotel room by emptying standing water from containers such as flowerpots or buckets.

10. Healthcare providers are encouraged to report suspected Zika cases to their state health department to facilitate diagnosis and mitigate risk of local transmission. State health departments are requested to report laboratory-confirmed cases to CDC.

Sources: CDC, WHO

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC, is the founder and president of Infection Control Consulting Services LLC (ICCS). Phenelle has more than 30 years' experience providing customized comprehensive infection control and prevention services to healthcare facilities nationwide. Her services focus on assisting hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, dental office and oral surgery practices, doctor's offices, nursing homes and other organizations with implementing and maintaining an infection control program that: complies with The Joint Commission, AAAHC, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and other regulatory agencies; respond to situations of noncompliance; and improve the processes for reducing risk.