Top Questions about Zika Virus Answered

Date: June 6th, 2016
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Healthy Teen Network welcomes guest blogger, Chris Colón, Certified Genetic Counselor at MotherToBaby Arizona, to answer the top questions about Zika Virus that may be relevant for our members working with young mothers.

These days, it’s hard to turn on the news or use social media and not see something about the Zika virus. There is a lot of information out there which can seem confusing and scary, and it seems to be changing all the time. So, I have put together some helpful answers to common questions.

I keep hearing about the Zika virus. What is it?

Zika is a virus which is passed to people mostly by mosquitos.  In 2013, there were outbreaks of Zika virus in islands in the Pacific, and now outbreaks are being reported in Central and South America, as well as Mexico. Recently, cases have been also reported in several U.S. states and territories. As of now, all U.S. cases have been in people who have traveled to affected countries. That can change at any time.

How do people get Zika?

Zika infection happens from the bite of an infected mosquito. Right now, there are no reports of people getting Zika from coughing and sneezing. However, there are reports of Zika being spread through blood transfusion and sex with an infected person. It’s not known how long the Zika virus remains in blood or semen.

For that reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that men who have traveled to place were people have been infected with Zika by mosquitoes should not have sex or should use condoms, especially if their partner is pregnant, to try to prevent Zika from spreading.

Why are people worried about Zika in pregnancy?

In pregnancy, there are reports of babies being born with problems with brain development, to mothers who were infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy. Microcephaly is a condition in which the baby is born with a small head and brain. Other changes in the brain have also been reported. These types of changes in the brain have been connected with long-term problems with learning and development in the affected child.

In April 2016, the CDC announced that Zika virus infection during pregnancy is a cause of microcephaly and other serious fetal brain defects. Other abnormalities are also associated with Zika virus infection during pregnancy.

How would I know if I get the Zika virus?

Symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, headache, joint and/or muscle pain, conjunctivitis (“pinkeye”), and sometimes a rash. About 4 out of 5 people who have the Zika virus do not have symptoms.

Testing for Zika is possible through state health departments, which are working with CDC. They can provide testing for people who meet specific guidelines. If you think you may have the Zika virus, your health care provider can discuss the testing options with you.

How is the Zika virus treated?

There is no specific treatment or cure for the Zika virus. Symptoms are treated as they happen. There is also no vaccine to prevent the Zika virus.

How can I avoid getting this virus?

Prevention is best. That includes using bug repellent (including products that have an ingredient called DEET) and wearing clothing that protects your skin (such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants). Prevention in and around your home should include using air conditioning or screens to keep mosquitoes from entering your home. Getting rid of standing water is also important because that’s where mosquitoes live and breed.

More information on use of insect repellants can be found at the website of the Environmental Protection Agency or at MotherToBaby.

What about breastfeeding and Zika virus?

To date, there are no reports of infants getting Zika virus through breastfeeding. Because of the benefits of breastfeeding, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed even in areas where Zika virus is found.

If the information is always changing, where can I get the latest information?

The best resources are the CDC and the World Health Organization. MotherToBaby is also a dependable resource with fact sheets and live counseling services available. If you have questions or concerns about the Zika virus in pregnancy or breastfeeding, please contact a MotherToBaby expert by calling 1-888-285-3410, emailing us, or visiting our national website.

Chris Colón is a certified genetic counselor based in Tucson, Arizona and proud mother of two. She currently works for The University of Arizona as a Teratogen Information Specialist at MotherToBaby Arizona, formerly known as the Arizona Pregnancy Riskline. Her counseling experience includes prenatal and cardiac genetics, and she has served as MotherToBaby’s Education Committee Co-chair since 2012.

MotherToBaby is a service of the international Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), a suggested resource by many agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you have questions about viruses, alcohol, medications, vaccines, diseases, or other exposures, call MotherToBaby toll-free at 866-626-6847 or try out MotherToBaby’s new text counseling service by texting questions to (855) 999-3525. You can also visit MotherToBaby.org to browse a library of fact sheets, email an expert, or chat live.

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