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Zika virus: What you should know: By Amanda Williams, DO
June 2, 2016

There’s no doubt you’ve heard news stories about Zika virus and its potential for birth defects.  With the World Health Organization declaring Zika a global public health emergency, here’s what you should know about this virus and how to prevent its spread. 

Zika virus is transmitted mainly by mosquitos commonly found in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Americas, including many states in the United States (U.S.).

Cases of Zika have been reported in the U.S. among travelers returning from areas with outbreaks, but there is no evidence yet that mosquitos in the U.S. are carrying the virus. However, there are reports of the virus spreading through blood transfusion and sexual contact, including at least 1 sexual transmission case in the U.S.

Most people infected with Zika virus won’t even know they have the disease because they won’t have symptoms. Approximately 1 in 5 people infected with the virus become sick, although it’s typically a mild illness lasting a few days to a week. Symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)

Zika in Pregnant Women

The biggest concern about Zika is its suspected link to microcephaly in the babies of infected pregnant mothers. Microcephaly is a birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head, intellectual delays, and vision and hearing issues, among other health concerns.

At this point in time, it is recommended that pregnant women postpone travel to areas where Zika virus outbreaks have occurred.  You can visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travelers Health website to see if the country you plan to visit has any travel health notices.  Locally to date, there have been 12 travel-associated cases of Zika in Ohio (for comparison’s sake, the largest amount is 127 cases in New York.) 


Protecting Yourself from Zika

Public health officials are concerned that Zika could spread in the U.S. if people infected with the virus while traveling are bitten by mosquitos here after they return.

To protect yourself from mosquito bites:

  • Avoid outdoor areas of standing water
  • Use an EPA-approved insect repellent
  • Wear long sleeves and pants outdoors

People infected with Zika should protect themselves from mosquito bites during the first week of the illness, to prevent local transmission.

At this time, there is no vaccine for Zika and no medicine to cure it. See your healthcare provider if you experience Zika symptoms, especially if you are pregnant or have traveled to an area with an outbreak. 

Symptoms can be treated with plenty of rest and fluids. Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) as directed to alleviate fever or pain. Do not take aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.


If you have a question regarding Zika virus symptoms and health updates, Madison Health Primary Care can help.


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