The general population, in particular pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy, is becoming increasingly concerned about the possibility of the Zika virus spreading northward into the United States. Many are looking for answers because they are not sure of what information is correct, given the headlines and images seen on television and online.
The Zika virus is not a new virus. It was first noted in humans in 1952 in East Africa, but it was only in 2007 that the first epidemic was noted, in the Micronesia Pacific Island of Yap. In 2013, French Polynesia experienced an outbreak of the virus and it was in 2014 that physicians reported on two mothers who passed the virus to their newborns, one of whom had microcephaly. It was also at this time the Zika virus was detected in donated blood from asymptomatic donors.
Since July 2015, news of Zika virus in South America and of numerous babies born with microcephaly from mothers who had been infected with the virus began to cause widespread concern, particularly as media outlets published stories of Americans who became ill with the virus while in the U.S. Given these concerns, what types of questions might your patients ask?
Can I get Zika virus in the U.S.?
While the mosquito-borne infection has occurred in American territories (American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands), no transmission of the virus by mosquito has yet been detected in the continental U.S., reports the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Experts are not in agreement as to whether the mosquitoes can come north. Some do predict that the mosquitoes could come up as far as New York. But if this were to happen, it would be seasonal, as the majority of the U.S. does not have the climate support the mosquitoes year-long. According to an article the The Lancet, however, there could be concern about Zika becoming an issue in Florida, which does have the right type of climate for the mosquitoes to survive. The mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus), are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses.
Americans have contracted the Zika virus inside the U.S., but not through mosquito bites. Some men who were infected outside of the U.S. transmitted it through sexual activity after their return to the U.S.
How can I protect myself from the virus if I’m traveling to affected areas?
The CDC recommends that pregnant women not travel to areas known to have Zika virus. If your patient must go, she should take extra precautions to prevent mosquito bites.
To avoid mosquito bites, the CDC recommends:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Ensure windows have screens, and when possible, air conditioning, to keep mosquitoes outside
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents that contain at least 20% DEET for protection against mosquitoes, such as Cutter Backwoods and Off! Deep Woods. Picaridin, found in products such as Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan, may also be effective.