WASHINGTON, February 11, 2016 – International health organizations are mobilizing to respond to growing outbreaks of the Zika virus.
On February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern as a result of an increasing number of clusters of microcephaly and other neurological disorders in some areas affected by Zika. Only seven days later, on February 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised its Emergency Operations Center activation to a Level 1, the highest level, because of outbreaks of Zika in the Americas and the increasing reports of birth defects and Guillain-Barré syndrome in areas where Zika is prevalent.
Brazil, the location of one of the highest concentrations of Zika, is set to host the Olympics this summer. Some athletes, like soccer’s Hope Solo, are expressing concerns about participating in the Olympics if the Zika outbreak continues.
There is still considerable confusion about the virus and its impact, and health authorities note there are numerous unknowns. However, following are eight important facts about the Zika virus:
- The Zika virus is not new, but it is spreading to new areas. Before 2015, Zika outbreaks were reported in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. In May 2015, the first confirmed case of Zika infections occurred in Brazil. Since then, the virus has spread to numerous countries throughout the Americas.
- There are now reported cases of Zika in Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific Islands, according to the CDC. As of February 10, 2015, there are 52 reported cases of Zika in the United States. All reported cases are travel related. States reporting Zika cases are Arkansas, California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. Florida, with 16 cases, has the most of any state.
- Zika is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, but human-to-human transmission has also been reported. The primary means of infection is through the bite of an Aedes species mosquito, which is the same type of mosquito that spreads the dengue and chikungunya viruses. It is possible, however, to get the virus from sexual contact or blood-to-blood contact.
- There is currently no vaccine against Zika, but you can take steps to minimize the chances of getting the virus. The best prevention is by avoiding mosquito bites, by wearing long sleeves and long pants and using insect repellents.
- For most people with Zika, the symptoms are mild. Only about 1 in 5 people with Zika become ill. For those who do become ill, the most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis or some combination of symptoms. These symptoms usually last for up to a week, and most people who are sick with Zika do not need hospital care. Treatment for Zika involves, rest, fluids, and taking aspirin or acetaminophen.
- The risk of Zika is much greater for unborn babies than for anyone else. A mother who is infected with Zika can infect her unborn baby, but it is unclear when that transmission is most likely to occur. Medical professionals note that they are still studying Zika, but there are increasing indications that there may be a link between Zika and birth defects such as microcephaly. International health organizations recommend against pregnant women in any trimester traveling to areas infected with Zika.
- The exact link between Zika and microcephaly is not clear. Medical professionals are studying the exact link between birth defects such as microcephaly and Zika, but say they have not yet proven a link. In Brazil, there are more than 4,000 new microcephaly cases, 20 times the number in previous years, and they seem to correlate to mothers with Zika. The Pan American Health Organization and the CDC are actively investigating whether there is a link and, if so, to determine the specific trimester of highest likelihood of transmission. Microcephaly is a birth defect where the size of the baby’s head is smaller than expected for age and sex. Children with microcephaly often have developmental issues, and can have a shortened life span.
- The biggest danger in the United States right now is infected travelers, but infected mosquitoes are not far behind. Zika cases in the United States currently are due to travelers who got the virus while traveling. The first Zika virus case in the United States was reported in 2007, by someone who had traveled internationally. However, mosquitoes infected with Zika have reached Puerto Rico, according to CDC spokesperson Benjamin Haynes. That puts the Gulf Coast at particular risk for Zika, making Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Texas and Mississippi most vulnerable.