Posts Tagged ‘zika virus’

Pregnancy and the Zika virus

September 14th, 2016
Be careful and protect yourself against Zika, especially while pregnant

Pregnant belly with big mosquito. Zika infection control concept. Picture with space for your text.

If you’re pregnant in this first summer of Zika in Florida, how worried should you be?

I’ve seen news reports about pregnant women in Miami, where the first cases of locally acquired Zika infections in the continental United States appeared in July.

One report was about an obstetrician who was making it a priority to spend her off-work hours inside at home. Another was about a woman who hadn’t left her house in three weeks.

A pregnant friend of mine is facing this with alert calm. Not panicking, but not being complacent, either. Knowing she lives in Florida, where Aedes genus mosquitoes linked to Zika virus also live, she applies bug repellant on a daily basis. Bug repellant is safe for pregnant women when used as directed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, the agency recommends it.

Her husband also is careful and keeps a can of bug spray in his car. The disease can be transmitted sexually by an infected partner, which means he needs to stay away from mosquitoes, too.

She talked with her doctor after the Florida Department of Health announced a case of homegrown Zika was found in her county. The odds of her coming in contact with the virus are still low, he assured her. A greater concern, he added, would be if she started to become highly anxious and had panic attacks.

Although Florida hasn’t escaped homegrown Zika infections this summer, health officials don’t expect huge outbreaks like those that have occurred in Brazil.

Robust mosquito control has been a priority in the state for decades. Window screens and air-conditioning are also common and limit exposure to insects.

Daily weekday updates about Zika in Florida are posted on the Florida Department of Health website. As of early September, there were nearly 600 cases of travel-related Zika cases in Florida and 56 cases of non-travel-related Zika; 80 of the infections were in pregnant women.

Thankfully, Zika isn’t expected to be life threatening or severe for most people. Many who get the virus won’t even have symptoms. Zika fever is said to be milder than other diseases, such as dengue, that are spread by the same type of mosquito.

But Zika isn’t a minor concern for pregnant women or those planning to become pregnant in the near future. Presently, there are too many unknowns about how the virus causes birth defects.

This is why the CDC recommends an abundance of caution for pregnant women. It recommends they avoid destinations where Zika is circulating. The agency’s Level 2 advisory list now includes more than 50 countries in South and Central America, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands. Singapore was the latest country to be added in late August.

The CDC also recommends that pregnant women avoid sections of Miami where homegrown Zika cases have been found.

If you’re expecting a baby or planning a pregnancy, talk to your doctor about how to stay safe. There are protocols for when to test for Zika and the Florida DOH offers free testing for pregnant women at county health departments.

It’s good to remember the advice from my friend’s obstetrician, too. Staying calm and avoiding panic attacks also are beneficial for pregnant moms.

Close to Home

August 3rd, 2016


Zika virus officially found in the US and can be very dangerrous

iStock Photo

It happened. The Zika virus has struck in the United States, and it hit close to home. It was recently announced that four Florida residents, three men and one woman, were the first known instances of local transmission of the virus.1 Until now, the cases of Zika virus in the US had come after the people traveled to a country where the virus is being transmitted or had sex with someone who traveled to one of those areas.

Local transmission means it was our own mosquitoes that carried the virus. The four North Miami residents who were infected weren’t bitten by carrier mosquitoes somewhere else and brought the illness home with them. They got it right here in Florida.

The Florida Department of Health (DPH) has yet to find any infected mosquitoes in the neighborhood where the four affected people live. None of the mosquitoes DPH has trapped thus far have tested positive for the virus, but that’s a billion-to-one proposition considering the population of the insects in South Florida this time of year. At any rate, the DPH believes the transmission of the virus occurred several weeks ago.

Officials also believe the area of active transmission is confined to the small neighborhood north of downtown Miami. They are still investigating, including doing a door-to-door canvas requesting information and urine samples to determine if any other residents have been infected. They expect more cases.

It wouldn’t be unusual for people infected with the Zika virus to not know they have it. Many people with the virus experience no symptoms, and many who do experience mild symptoms that don’t overly alarm them. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). They might also experience some muscle pain and headaches.

For most folks, the disease that results from the Zika virus isn’t too bad. It causes those uncomfortable symptoms for a few days to a week. However, for pregnant women, the virus can be devastating. It can be transmitted to the baby during pregnancy and can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly (“small head”) and other severe brain defects. For older individuals, the virus has been known to trigger an uncommon nervous system condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Keep in mind that the Zika virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, specifically a mosquito of the Aedes species (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that these mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters. That doesn’t mean you’re safe at night. You’re not. They bite at night as well.

The best prevention against the Zika virus, then, is to avoid getting bitten by a mosquito. The CDC has some advice to help you with that.4 There are a few basic tips for preventing bug bites, including those from Zika-bearing mosquitoes.

Use insect repellant. Use a product that contains at least 20 percent DEET. The higher the percentage of DEET, the longer the protection lasts. This maximizes at about 50 percent. Other products also repel mosquitoes, including picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Cover exposed skin. When you can, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants with socks and a hat. This does double-duty because it saves your skin from the harmful effects of the sun as well.

Avoid bugs where you are staying. Choose to stay in places that have air conditioning or windows with screens to keep the mosquitoes out. If such accommodations are unavailable or if you are staying outside, sleep under a net or in a tent that has been treated with insect repellant.

After the four people were found infected in Florida, the CDC said it expects to see more cases of locally transmitted Zika virus in the US. They stress the importance of taking the noted precautions against getting bit, especially for pregnant women.

Even if you don’t live in Florida, don’t take a chance. Mosquitoes are everywhere. Protect yourself from their bites by following the CDC’s advice and using your common sense.




Reviewing the Zika Virus

February 4th, 2016
Courtesy of iStock

Courtesy of iStock

Sharing media coverage with the election lately is ongoing news about a rapidly spreading virus called the zika virus. While only 36 people (as of this posting) in the United States have contracted this virus, other areas of the continent and the world have been more brutally hit. So much so that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a global public health emergency(1).

Don’t let that scare you too much. Keep in mind, the people in the US who have the zika virus did not get it here. In most cases, they were infected while traveling in countries where the virus is more prevalent and returned with it. The virus is not transmitted from person to person, so the infection does not spread if an infected person touches or breathes on you.

It is spread to people through the bite of an infected mosquito, specifically an Aedes mosquito; and, yes, we have that type of mosquito in the US. This mosquito, which is known to transmit other weird diseases, gets the zika virus by biting an infected person. So, the more infected people, the more infected mosquitoes. The more infected mosquitoes, the more infected people.

According to the WHO, it’s not certain how long after exposure that symptoms will appear, but it’s likely a few days. Symptoms include a fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle and joint pain, malaise and headache. These symptoms are usually mild and last for several days to a week(2). Some people might not even know they’ve been infected.

For most people, zika virus disease will pass with little concern. Treatment is geared to relief of symptoms and should include getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids to prevent dehydration and taking medication such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain (3). There is no specific treatment for the virus itself and no vaccine to prevent infection.

There are potential complications of the zika virus, however, and pregnant women and their newborns appear to be at highest risk. In addition to the bite of a mosquito, the virus can be transmitted by a mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth. The WHO’s emergency declaration comes in the wake of a “strongly suspected” link between the virus and the neurological birth defect called microcephaly.

Statistics have shown that in Brazil, which has seen an explosion of the virus, there are higher than normal cases of microcephaly in populations with evidence of zika infection. Microcephaly is a rather rare condition present at birth in which the infant’s head is abnormally small, which is generally associated with incomplete brain development and intellectual disability.

A potential link between the zika virus and the neurological/autoimmune condition Guillain-Barré syndrome is also suspected. With Guillain-Barré, the individual’s immune system attacks the nerve cells, which causes muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis that can last a few weeks or several months. Most people recover from Guillain-Barré syndrome, but some are left with permanent damage.

Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, affirms the CDC’s commitment to dedicating resources to discovering better testing for diagnosing zika virus, as well as ways to treat it, contain it and prevent it in this country(4). He notes that for non-pregnant people, the virus poses no significant health risk. He also believes that from the information known at this time, a widespread transmission in the contiguous United States appears to be unlikely.

Still, wear your insect repellant and long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Stay in places with air conditioning or screens on the windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out. Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active, and help children and the elderly with mosquito prevention. Take steps and be safe from all mosquito-borne illnesses, as well as the discomfort of their bites!

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