By Sonia G. Pandit, MPH MBA Sonia G. Pandit, MPH MBA is the CEO of The Pandit Group (www.thepanditgroup.com) and a consultant for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, for Toys R Us
Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to present about the Zika virus – “Zika” – at multiple community events across Maryland. Many women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant have heard about the link between Zika and birth defects and are appropriately concerned. Here are answers to five of their most frequent questions:
1. How is Zika spread?
The Zika virus is spread primarily through the bite of infected Aedes species mosquitoes. It can also be transmitted sexually and from a pregnant woman to her fetus.
2. What happens if I get Zika?
Zika affects adults and children similarly. Most people with Zika do not have symptoms. Those that are symptomatic commonly experience fever, rash, red eyes, or joint pain. The illness is usually mild and lasts up to one week.
You should consult with your healthcare provider if you suspect you are at risk for Zika; testing is available. If you are found to have Zika, please follow the prevention measures listed below to avoid getting bitten by a local mosquito; this will help prevent others from getting infected.
3. What happens if I get Zika while I am pregnant?
Getting a Zika infection during pregnancy may cause birth defects in the fetus. Birth defects can include microcephaly (a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than normal), vision or hearing problems, and impaired growth. Pregnant women and women considering pregnancy should consult with their healthcare provider. Suggested timeframes to wait before trying to get pregnant for people exposed to Zika are available here: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/pregnancy/women-and-their-partners.html.
Currently, we do not know if there is any time during pregnancy when it is safe to travel to an area with Zika, the likelihood of the virus spreading to a fetus if a pregnant woman has Zika, or the likelihood of a baby having birth defects if it were to get a Zika infection.
4. Is there a vaccine or treatment for Zika?
To date, there is no vaccine to prevent or treat Zika. Fortunately, since the symptoms of Zika are typically mild, most healthy people can manage them with plenty of rest, lots of fluids, and over-the-counter pain medications. If you feel your symptoms are particularly severe or have other serious medical conditions, you should consult with your healthcare provider.
5. How many cases of Zika do we have in the United States?
As of August 17, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 2,260 Zika cases in the United States that were confirmed by laboratory testing. Of these, 2,245 cases were associated with travel and 22 were sexually transmitted. As of August 11, 2016, the CDC has reported that 529 pregnant women in the United States have laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection.
Here are three simple steps you can take today to protect yourself and your family:
1. Do not travel to areas with Zika. The current list of places with Zika is available here: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information.
2. Use protection correctly every time you have sex, or abstain from sex, especially if you or your sexual partners live in or travel to an area with Zika.
3. Protect yourself from mosquitoes. Here is how:
- Stay in places with air conditioning and screens on windows and doors.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors.
- Treat your clothing and gear with permethrin or buy permethrin-treated items.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–registered insect repellents with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-methane-diol. Follow instructions carefully.
- Do not use insect repellents on babies younger than 2 months old.
- Do not use repellents with oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
- Remove all standing water on your property. This includes water in tires, buckets, and planters.
For more information, please visit www.cdc.gov/zika/ and consult the following resources:
Stay safe and remember that Zika is 100% preventable!
Image via Flickr by Hamza Butt
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