Zika Virus: What We Know, What We Don’t Know

The Zika virus has been around for decades, but only recently has gotten the attention of the U.S. with the rapid spread of the virus in the Western Hemisphere. The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted infection with mostly mild symptoms like fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes – many will never even know they were infected. While mosquito seasons vary across the U.S., they often come with warming temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and with summer underway, many areas are now addressing ways to prepare for increased exposure to mosquitoes.

Spread of the Zika virus in the United States thus far has been limited to travel-associated cases, 591 as of May 25, 2016. While the majority of transmissions occur through the bite of an infected female Aedes species mosquito (only females bite humans), the virus can be transmitted from mother to fetus, through sexual contact with an infected male, and through blood transfusions. Transmission from mother to fetus is especially troublesome because it can cause microcephaly – babies are born with unusually small heads and brains that have not developed properly, and other birth defects.

Because sexual transmission seems tied to the Zika virus’s presence in infected males’ semen, proper condom use or not having sex are prevention measures. It’s not known if an infected woman can transmit the virus through sexual contact, or if it can be passed through vaginal fluids or salvia. For women trying to get pregnant, it’s now recommended waiting at least 8 weeks before trying to conceive if they or their partner live in or are returning from Zika infected areas.

While there have been no confirmed blood transfusion-transmission in the U.S., there have been several confirmed cases in Brazil.

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Dana Abbey, MLS[i]  dana.abbey@ucdenver.edu

[i] Funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012344 with the University of Utah Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library.

 

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