Monday, February 29, 2016

A Q&A from the CDC About the Zika Virus

What is Zika virus disease?
Zika is a disease caused by Zika virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.

Why are we hearing so much about Zika?
Recent outbreaks throughout Central and South America have generated national attention on this virus. While many will only experience mild symptoms, Zika virus has been linked to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly (a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age) and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant.

What are the symptoms of Zika?
About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika will get sick. For people who get sick, the illness is usually mild. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.

The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms typically begin 2 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Are children or elderly at increased risk of complications?
No. Otherwise healthy children and elderly populations will likely experience the same signs and symptoms, with minimal risk for complications.

If your child develops any of the signs or symptoms of Zika, see your child’s primary doctor for evaluation and let him/her know of any recent trips the family or family members have taken.

What types of complications can occur?
Complications and hospitalizations are rare with Zika virus.

How is Zika transmitted?
Zika is primarily transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes, the same mosquitoes that spread Chikungunya and dengue. These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters and they can also bite at night. Mosquitoes become infected when they bite a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth. The CDC is studying how some mothers can pass the virus to their babies. While not the most common form of transmission, spread of the virus through blood transfusion and sexual contact have been reported.

Who is at risk of being infected?
Anyone who lives in or travels to an area where Zika virus is found and has not already been infected with Zika virus can get it from mosquito bites. While not common, cases of transmission through sexual contact have been reported. If you or your partner have recently traveled to an area where Zika virus has been found, there is a chance that you could transmit the virus through sexual contact.

What countries have Zika?
Specific areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing are often difficult to determine and are likely to change over time. If traveling, please visit the CDC Travelers’ Health site for the most updated travel information.

What can people do to prevent becoming infected with Zika?

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika. The best way to prevent diseases spread by mosquitoes is to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites. Here’s how:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. 
  • Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside. 
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. All EPA-registered insect repellents are evaluated for safety and effectiveness. 
  • Always follow the product label instructions. 
  • Reapply insect repellent as directed. 
  • Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing. 
  • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent. 
If you have a baby or child:
  • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months of age. 
  • Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs, or 
  • Cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting. 
  • Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin. 
  • Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face. 
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or buy permethrin-treated items. 
  • Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See product information to learn how long the protection will last. 
  • If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully. 
  • Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing. 
  • Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.

What is the treatment for Zika?

There is no vaccine or specific medicine to treat Zika virus infections.

With the Zika virus, doctors treat the symptoms:
  • Get plenty of rest. 
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration. 
  • Take medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain. 
  • Do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. 
  • If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.
How is Zika diagnosed?

If you develop symptoms of Zika virus (fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes), see your regular healthcare provider. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have recently traveled, even within the continental U.S.

Your healthcare provider may order blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viral diseases like dengue or chikungunya.

What should I do if I have Zika?

Treat the symptoms:
  • Get plenty of rest 
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration 
  • Take medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain 
  • Do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Protect others: During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another person through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people. To help prevent others from getting sick, avoid mosquito bites during the first week of illness.

See your healthcare provider if you are pregnant and develop a fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes within two (2) weeks after traveling to a place where Zika has been reported. Be sure to tell your health care provider where you traveled.

Is there a vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika?

No. There is no vaccine to prevent infection or medicine to treat Zika.

Are you immune for life once infected?
Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

Does Zika virus infection in pregnant women cause birth defects?
There have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly (a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age) and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. Knowledge of the link between Zika and these outcomes is evolving, but until more is known, CDC recommends special precautions for the following groups:
Women who are pregnant (in any trimester):
  • Consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. 
  • If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your doctor first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip. 
Women who are trying to become pregnant:
  • Before you travel, talk to your doctor about your plans to become pregnant and the risk of Zika virus infection. 
  • Strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.
For more questions and answers on Zika and pregnancy, see the CDC’s Questions and Answers: Zika and Pregnancy.

Does Zika virus infection cause Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)?

Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder where a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes, paralysis. These symptoms can last a few weeks or several months. While most people fully recover from GBS, some people have permanent damage and in rare cases, people have died.

The CDC does not know if Zika virus infection causes GBS. It is difficult to determine if any particular germ “causes” GBS. The Brazil Ministry of Health (MOH) is reporting an increased number of people affected with GBS. CDC is collaborating with the Brazil MOH to determine if having Zika makes it more likely you will get GBS.

Is this a new virus?

No. Outbreaks of Zika previously have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Zika virus likely will continue to spread to new areas. In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. Since that time, local transmission has been reported in many other countries and territories.

How many travel-associated cases have been diagnosed in the United States?

CDC continues to work with states to monitor the United States for mosquito-borne diseases, including Zika. As an arboviral disease, Zika is nationally notifiable. Healthcare providers are encouraged to report suspected cases to their state or local health departments to facilitate diagnosis and mitigate the risk of local transmission. Limited local transmission may occur in the mainland United States but it’s unlikely that we will see widespread transmission of Zika in the mainland U.S.

Should we be concerned about Zika in the United States?

The U.S. mainland does have Aedes species mosquitoes that can become infected with and spread Zika virus. U.S. travelers who visit a country where Zika is found could become infected if bitten by a mosquito.

With the recent outbreaks, the number of Zika virus disease cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States will likely increase. These imported cases may result in local spread of the virus in some areas of the United States. CDC has been monitoring these epidemics and is prepared to address cases imported into the United States and cases transmitted locally.

What is CDC doing about Zika?

CDC has been aware of Zika for some time and has been preparing for its possible introduction into the United States. Laboratories in many countries have been trained to test for chikungunya and dengue. These skills have prepared these laboratories for Zika testing.

CDC is working with international public health partners and with state health departments to:
  • Alert healthcare providers and the public about Zika. 
  • Post travel notices and other travel-related guidance. 
  • Provide state health laboratories with diagnostic tests. 
  • Detect and report cases, which will help prevent further spread.

The arrival of Zika in the Americas demonstrates the risks posed by this and other exotic viruses. CDC’s health security plans are designed to effectively monitor for disease, equip diagnostic laboratories, and support mosquito control programs both in the United States and around the world.

How can I learn more about Zika virus?

CDC has a number of resources available to learn more about Zika virus. Visit the website at

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