What you need to know about Zika

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HonorHealth - Zika Virus - What you need to know

The spread of the Zika virus has caused worldwide concern, and with it, worldwide misinformation. Paul Sieckmann, MD, primary care physician with HonorHealth Medical Group, answers questions and helps dispel the myths circulating about this mysterious virus.

Q: What is the Zika virus and why do you need to be concerned about it?

A: Zika is a disease caused by the Zika virus, which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Concern is rising because of the rapid increase in the number of cases worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recognizes the Zika virus as causing microcephaly (small heads) and brain damage in infants born to mothers infected with the virus.

Q: Is there more than one way you can catch Zika?

A: Primary transmission occurs when you are bitten by an infected mosquito. Transmission also occurs between an infected mother and a fetus in utero or at time of delivery. If you're infected, you can also transmit the virus to your partner through sexual activity.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: In adults, symptoms typically appear between two and 14 days after transmission, and can last up to a week. It is rare for Zika to cause fatal or life threatening illness in adults. Symptoms can include low grade fever, rash, joint pain, muscle aches, headaches, weakness and eye discomfort. You could also exhibit abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and itchiness. Only 20 to 25 percent of infected people will have symptoms.

Zika can cause microcephaly and brain damage to fetuses during all trimesters, but the greatest risk is during the first trimester. Zika virus infection has also been associated with fetal loss in the first trimester, as well as brainstem dysfunction.

Q: What should you do if you think you have Zika?

A: Go to your physician to be evaluated for testing. If you meet the CDC criteria for testing, it will be arranged through your physician.

Q: Is there a danger in traveling to areas where Zika is prevalent?

A: If you're visiting South America, Central America, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands or the Caribbean, there is a risk of getting infected with the Zika virus. You may become infected and not show symptoms.

Q: Does Zika cause microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome?

A: Microcephaly is an abnormally small head. Zika does cause microcephaly and brain damage in a fetus. There is speculation that the Zika virus can lead to development of Guillain-Barre, a disease in which the body's immune system attacks the protective coating on the outside of nerves. The disease causes nerve damage that in severe cases can progress rapidly and cause respiratory failure.

Q: Can pregnant mothers transmit Zika during pregnancy or childbirth?

A: Mothers can transmit the virus during pregnancy or childbirth, and that is why Zika is so concerning. A mother who has no symptoms can transmit the disease to her child in utero, or during delivery.

Q: What can you do to protect yourself from being bitten by an infected mosquito?

A: The best option is to avoid travel to areas endemic for Zika carrying mosquitos. If you travel to an area prone to infections, stay in clean living quarters, use mosquito nets and insect repellent, and wear long-sleeves or long pants. Avoid standing bodies of water, which are prime breeding grounds for mosquitos. You can't guarantee you won't be bitten by an infected mosquito, but you can reduce the risk.

Q: How do you know if donated blood is safe?

A: To ensure that donated blood is as safe as possible, blood donors are required to conduct a behavioral and health history and a mini physical exam prior to donation. All donated blood is tested for a variety of infectious diseases. Blood that has abnormal tests results is immediately discarded. This is standard protocol for all donations at all times, not just because of Zika virus outbreaks.

If you have questions about the Zika virus, contact your doctor, or find one through HonorHealth Medical Group.