March 24th, 2017
If you tuned into the news last summer, chances are you heard about Zika. Zika is a virus that is spread typically by the bite of an infected mosquito, but can also be transmitted through sex or from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Most people with Zika virus will have only very mild symptoms, which include fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, headache, and red eyes. Symptoms last only a few days to a week and once a person has Zika, they are unlikely to get it again. Zika virus was first discovered in the 1940’s in the Zika Forest in Uganda and the first human cases were detected in 1952. Zika is most common in tropical areas such as Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.
So what’s all the fuss? Although Zika virus is relatively harmless for adults, Zika infection during pregnancy can cause birth defects in infants. Babies infected with Zika virus have been found to have microcephaly, a birth defect of the brain, defects of the eye, hearing deficits, sickness of the nervous system, and impaired growth.
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you must be mindful of Zika, particularly of transmission through sex. Zika virus can be transmitted through sex even if a person is not showing symptoms at the time and even if a person has been infected with Zika but has never shown any symptoms at all. Condoms and abstinence are the best ways to protect against Zika.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends Zika testing for anyone who may have been exposed to Zika and for pregnant women with possible sexual exposure. It is unknown how long Zika virus can stay in genital fluids, but it is thought to stay in semen longer than vaginal fluids, urine, or blood. The CDC also recommends that men who have traveled to a place with Zika and develop symptoms should use condoms or abstain from sex for 6 months. If they do not have any symptoms, they should take the same precautions for at least 8 weeks.
It is a misconception that Zika virus is only transmitted if a person has traveled to a foreign country. Several cases of Zika were confirmed in the continental United States in 2016 in people who had not traveled internationally. Still, officials warn against women who are pregnant or becoming pregnant to avoid places with Zika cases, particularly Florida, and especially in the summer months during mosquito season.