What is Zika?
Zika is a virus that is commonly transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks. Infection can lead to fever, rash, joint pain and pink eyes. There is a risk with Zika infection in pregnant women as it can cause serious problems to the baby.
History of Zika
This virus was originally found in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947. Since then there have been outbreaks in 2007, 2013 and most notably in Brazil in 2015. The first case of a birth defect from Zika infection in the US was in January 2016 in Hawaii and the first case of sexually transmitted Zika virus infection was in February 2016 in Texas.
How does it spread?
Zika is primarily transmitted from mosquito bites, but can also be spread through unprotected sex, mother to unborn baby and other uncommon ways (blood transfusion, organ transplant).
Where Zika Infected Mosquitoes Thrive
The two common types of mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus) that carry Zika tend to live in tropical and temperate regions. See the graphic below to see which areas they thrive in.
What are signs of Zika infection?
About 20-25% of patients will develop symptoms, which usually happen 2-14 days after infection. Common symptoms are
Fever (temperature > 100.4 )
Pain in joints (hands and feet)
Red or pink eye
Symptoms will normally resolve in 2-7 days. If you suspect you may have signs of a Zika infection, talk to your doctor and he/she can test you for Zika.
Zika has been linked with certain birth defects when a pregnant woman is infected with Zika. In certain cases, Zika can lead to damage of the nerves, especially the fetus’s nervous system and can lead to congenital microcephaly (baby being born with a significantly smaller head due to abnormal brain development) among other issues. Pregnant women should avoid travel to places with known Zika infection outbreaks.
Recent studies[3, 4] have shown that Zika can be detected in men’s semen up to 6 months after infection. Some experts suggest the following guidelines for people who could get pregnant and their partners
Men who might have been exposed to Zika should avoid unprotected sex for at least 6 months
Women who might have been exposed should avoid unprotected sex for at least 8 months
Men and women who might have been exposed and their partner is pregnant should avoid unprotected sex for the rest of their partner’s pregnancy
How is Zika treated?
There is no specific cure for Zika infection, and treatment involves managing symptoms. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and use Tylenol (acetaminophen) for fever and pain. Avoid the use of ibuprofen and aspirin.
The best way to prevent Zika is to avoid mosquito bites with long pants/shirts, using insect repellent (especially during evening) and preventing mosquito breeding sites. Mosquitos breed in standing water, so it’s best to avoid leaving pots or buckets outside and covering water tanks.
Mosquito Prevention: What is DEET?
In the U.S., DEET is widely used in insect repellents like OFF!™. DEET is the common name for N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide, which was developed by the U.S. Army in 1946 as an insect repellent. Some theories on how DEET works, are that it blocks an insect’s ability to smell human sweet and breath or that insects simply hate the smell of DEET. Some consumers believe that the higher concentration of DEET equals a higher level of protection. This is actually not the case, higher concentrations only extends the time frame of the repellent’s effectiveness.
Individuals that have left DEET products on their skin for extended periods of time have in rare cases experienced irritation, redness, rashes, and/or swelling. Also, in rare cases DEET can cause more serious side effects (seizures, slurred speech, coma, etc.) in people who ingest it, have applied it for three or more days in a row, or used products with more than 95 percent DEET. It's unclear whether lower doses pose the same risks, especially if you follow directions.
DEET based insect repellents have been classified as safe for human skin and is effective but for those looking for a more natural and DEET free alternative there is Skeeter Screen™. Skeeter Screen™ carries mosquito repellent human and pet sprays, candles, diffusers, spreadable yard and garden pellets, and yard sticks. Its essential oil formula is safe for pets and the entire family with a pleasant floral scent.
Future of Zika
There is no current vaccine for Zika but many candidates are in early stages of development. In the future, we might be able to immunize against Zika.
The CDC is continually tracking the spread of Zika virus globally and is conducting studies linking Zika and other birth defects and diseases.
There haven’t been any cases of local mosquito borne Zika transmissions reported for the continental US in 2018; however, there are places that are at risk of Zika infection. The CDC has a world map where Zika may be a risk.
Though there aren’t any active cases in the US of Zika, the CDC has some archived Zika guidance on the past Zika cases.
Dallas County Health and Human Services. DCHHS Reports First Zika Virus Case in Dallas County Acquired Through Sexual Transmission. http://www.dallascounty.org/department/hhs/press/documents/PR2-2- 16DCHHSReportsFirstCaseofZikaVirusThroughSexualTransmission.pdf (Accessed on June 19, 2018)
Reproduced form: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Zika Virus: Vector Surveillance and Control. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/vector/index.html
Mead PS, Duggal NK, Hook SA, et al. Zika Virus Shedding in Semen of Symptomatic Infected Men. N Engl J Med. 2018;378(15):1377-1385.
Joguet G, Mansuy JM, Matusali G, et al. Effect of acute Zika virus infection on sperm and virus clearance in body fluids: a prospective observational study. Lancet Infect Dis. 2017;17(11):1200-1208.
Consumer Report. How Safe is Deet? https://www.consumerreports.org/insect-repellent/how-safe-is-deet-insect-repellent-safety/ (Accessed on June 20, 2018)
OFF! Education. 7 Myths and Facts About Deet. https://off.com/en/education/active-ingredients/7-myths-and-facts-about-deet (Accessed on June 20, 2018)