Summer Health: What You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

August 18, 2016



Amy Kilroy, MPH, CIC, Infection Control Preventionist, UP Health System - Marquette

For months, we've heard the warnings about Zika virus, a disease that is relatively new to the U.S., as it has historically been confined to more tropical and remote regions of the world. This disease, which is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes, has been particularly concerning for pregnant women and their unborn babies. Now, as scientists are learning more about the disease, we're finding that it could have more widespread implications.

Because of this, UP Health System - Marquette wants to make sure you know what to watch out for and how to ensure you and your family stay safe and healthy this summer. As you and your family plan to spend more time outside, Amy Kilroy, MPH, CIC Infection Control Preventionist at UP Health System – Marquette, answers the most pressing Zika-related questions.

What is Zika Virus?

Kilroy: Zika virus is a disease spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika virus was first discovered in 1947, with the first human cases detected in 1952. Since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, until May 2015, when it began spreading across South America.

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.

Who is susceptible to Zika virus and how is it transmitted?

Kilroy: Anyone who lives in or travels to an area where Zika virus has been detected and has not already been infected with Zika virus can get it from bites of an infected mosquito. Only certain mosquitos can carry the virus, and these types of mosquitos do not live in Michigan. While not common, the disease can also be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected individual.

How do I know if I have Zika?

Kilroy: Fortunately, for people who get sick, the illness is usually mild, and the person may not even realize he or she been infected. However, some will develop symptoms, typically 2 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

What advice to you have for people who are planning on traveling to Miami or other areas with known Zika?

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) and the Florida Health Department has identified a neighborhood called Wynwood Area in Miami, FL where Zika virus is being spread by mosquitoes.  You can keep up to date by checking which areas currently have Zika virus at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html

  • Women and men who live in or frequently travel to areas with Zika virus should talk to their healthcare provider.
  • Women and men who traveled to these areas should speak with their healthcare provider before trying to get pregnant.
  • Pregnant women should avoid non-essential travel to these areas. 
  • Pregnant women and their partners living in or traveling to these areas should follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.
  • Pregnant women with possible Zika virus exposure and signs or symptoms of Zika virus should be tested for Zika.

How can I prevent mosquito bites?

Kilroy: The best way to prevent diseases spread by mosquitoes, such as Zika virus, is to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites when you are in parts of the world that are affected. 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.
  • Minimize the potential for mosquitoes in your yard by eliminating opportunities for standing water – toys, trash can lids, bird baths, etc.
  • 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. Instead, dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs, or cover the 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 should I do if I suspect someone in my family may have been exposed to the disease?

Kilroy: First, see your primary care physician for proper diagnosis. If diagnosed with Zika virus, the best course of action is to 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
     

It is particularly important to protect others to prevent further spread. 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 after traveling to a place where Zika virus has been reported. Be sure to tell your health care provider where you traveled.