Zika fever is a mild febrile illness caused by a mosquito-borne virus similar to those that cause dengue and West Nile virus infection. The Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Zika can also be passed through sex from a person who has Zika to his or her sex partners and it can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus.
How Zika Spreads:
A mosquito becomes infected when it bites a person already infected with Zika. That mosquito can then spread the virus by biting more people.
The type of mosquito that causes Zika breeds in places where water is allowed to accumulate in man-made containers. You can reduce your risk of encounters with this and other disease-causing mosquitoes by emptying or covering water-holding containers in yard and by keeping gutters and ditches free flowing.
The spread of the virus through blood transfusion and sexual contact have been reported, even if the person does not have symptoms at the time.
There is no vaccine for humans at this time.
Many people infected with Zika won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. The most common symptoms are:
- Joint pain
- Red eyes
Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. Symptoms can last for several days to a week. There is no specific medicine for Zika.
People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika.
Health Problems that Can Result from Zika:
Zika infection during pregnancy can cause fetuses to have a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly. Other problems have been detected among fetuses and infants infected with Zika virus before birth, such as defects of the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth. There have also been increased reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an uncommon sickness of the nervous system, in areas affected by Zika.
What to Do if You’re Pregnant:
Women who have traveled to areas where Zika has been reported during their pregnancy should consult their obstetrician.
Free Walk-in Testing for Pregnant Women: All county health departments in Florida offer free Zika risk assessment and testing to any pregnant woman who would like to be tested.
Pregnant women who live in Sarasota County may contact the Department of Health in Sarasota County at 941-861-2817 for information about no-cost Zika testing on a walk-in basis during established days/hours.
The test will require both a blood draw and urine sample. Test results will be sent to the pregnant woman’s health care provider. It may take one to two weeks to receive results.
More information on Zika and pregnancy is available through the Department of Health and the CDC.
If You Think You Have Been Exposed To Zika:
Patients who have symptoms of Zika and who have recently traveled to an area where the virus is present should contact their health care provider — this is especially important if they are pregnant.
The local health department can make arrangements with health providers to test samples from those patients who meet the state’s criteria for Zika testing. Testing criteria and guidelines are available on the Florida Department of Health website.
Zika testing also is available at some private commercial laboratories. Individuals should check with the lab and their insurance provider for costs and coverage.
How to Prevent Zika
Reduce your chances of getting bitten by mosquitoes - DRAIN and COVER.
Mosquitoes live indoors and out and they’ll bite any time, day or night. The mosquito that carries the Zika virus breeds in containers around your home and in bromeliad plants.
Drain standing water to keep mosquitoes from multiplying:
- Bring unused containers indoors so they will not collect water.
- Empty all outdoor containers of standing water.
- Flush water out of flower pots.
- Maintain swimming pools in good condition and appropriately chlorinated. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.
- Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don’t accumulate water.
Cover your skin:
- Keep doors and windows shut.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outdoors.
- Cover baby strollers and cribs with mosquito netting.
Use EPA-approved insect repellents. Repellents with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 are effective.
- Use only on babies older than two months. Use mosquito netting to protect children younger than 2 months old.
- Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-methane –diol on children younger than 3 years old.
- Never spray on a child’s hands, mouth, a cut or irritated skin.
- Spray repellent on your hands and then smooth onto a child’s face.
- EPA-approved repellent is safe for pregnant women to use.
- Spray repellent directly on your skin or clothing.
- Never spray repellent on skin beneath clothing.
- Use sunscreen first, then repellent.
- Use permethrin ONLY on gear and clothing, NEVER on skin.
Prevent sexual transmission of Zika by using condoms or not having sex.
For the latest updates on the Zika virus, call the Florida Department of Health's Zika hotline at 855-622-6735. Or visit the floridahealth.gov or the CDC websites.
Sources: CDC and Florida Department of Health