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What are the most common signs of Zika virus?

Most people who get the Zika virus have no symptoms, which means they won’t even know they’ve became infected. Only about 20 percent of people who are infected experience symptoms, which are generally mild, including fever, rash, joint aches and red eyes. These symptoms usually last only a few days to a week. In severe cases, weakness may occur, which should be evaluated by a provider.

How is Zika virus spread?

Zika virus is mainly spread from the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito to a person. These mosquitos are aggressive, day-biting insects.

Zika also can be spread:

  • From an infected mother to a fetus during any trimester of pregnancy
  • Through sexual contact with an infected person. In males, the virus can persist in semen for several months. Females may sexually transmit the virus only during a few days after becoming ill or infected.
  • Through infected blood, as in a transfusion from an infected person

How dangerous is the virus?

Zika is a mild to asymptomatic disease in adults and children. In very rare cases, infection can lead to a paralysis syndrome. Death from Zika virus is rare.

The major concerns come when pregnant women are infected. A pregnant woman can transmit the virus to her baby, causing congenital malformations, such as microcephaly, a birth defect where the baby’s head is smaller than expected, or other severe developmental and neurologic disease.

Not all pregnant women who become infected will deliver abnormal babies. If a pregnant woman is infected, her doctor will perform tests, including ultrasounds, to monitor the baby’s development.

How is Zika virus treated? Is there a vaccine?

Symptoms may be treated with fluids, rest and acetaminophen. Aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen or naproxen, should be avoided.

There is currently no available vaccine for Zika virus. A potential vaccine is being tested for safety.

Where is Zika virus currently active?

Zika virus is currently active in over 50 countries, but the greatest concern is in the countries of South and Central America, the Caribbean and now in the southern United States, where cases acquired through the bite of mosquitos are occurring in Florida. People who have been infected with Zika while traveling outside the country, however, are scattered throughout the United States.

Is it safe to travel to other countries? What if I am pregnant?

The CDC has issued travel notices to regions where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Travelers to these areas should take extra precautions against mosquito bites.

Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant within three months should avoid travel to Zika-affected regions. If you must travel to these areas, strict precautions should be followed to avoid a mosquito bite. These include wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, using permethrin-treated clothing and gear, using U.S. EPA-registered insect repellants and sleeping in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.

If you are pregnant and have recently returned from a Zika-affected area, please discuss your risk of Zika virus with your healthcare provider.

I’m going to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. How do I protect myself from Zika virus?

If you’re planning to attend the Olympics, take extra precautions to stay safe. 

What type of precautions can people take to avoid the virus?

Prevention occurs by decreasing exposure to and avoiding mosquito bites:

  • Avoid mosquitoes when possible.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Treat clothing with a permethrin spray.
  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent (DEET) on skin. These repellents are safe for pregnant women and children. Be sure to check the product label for any warnings and follow the instructions closely.
  • Control mosquito populations in and around your home. Use air conditioning, window screens or insecticide-treated mosquito netting to keep mosquitoes out of the home. Reduce the number of mosquitoes outside your home by emptying or routinely changing standing water from containers, such as flowerpots, pet dishes and bird baths.

How else can I protect myself?

Avoid sexual contact with a partner who has traveled to a Zika-affected area, or use a condom correctly each time you have sex. For more information, visit the PA Department of Health’s Zika Virus Prevention page.

Are there cases of Zika virus in Pennsylvania?

There have been cases in travelers who have returned from areas where Zika virus is common. Local transmission, where the virus is acquired from local mosquitos, has not been identified in Pennsylvania or anywhere in the continental United States. Click here for current information on Zika virus cases in Pennsylvania.

Can my pet get Zika virus?

There are no reports of pets or other animals getting sick from Zika virus.

What should I do if I think I have Zika?

Contact your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of Zika virus and have been to an affected area in the past two weeks or had sexual contact in the last 6 months with a male partner who has traveled to an area where Zika transmission is known to occur.

If you are pregnant and traveled to a Zika-affected area within the last 12 weeks, your healthcare provider may test you for Zika virus even if you have not experienced symptoms.

Who should be tested? Where is testing offered?

Routine testing is not recommended for people who are asymptomatic or have mild disease. Testing is only recommended for severe disease or for pregnant women whose fetus is found to have abnormalities in utero.

Your doctor can order a blood test based on your travel history and symptoms. Blood can be drawn at any phlebotomy facility. Blood is sent for testing through the PA Department of Health, then to the CDC Arboviral Lab in Colorado. Results generally are available in about six weeks.

What is Pennsylvania doing to protect its residents?

The state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Protection have a Zika Response Plan to prepare for Zika virus testing, enhance surveillance and control of mosquito populations that can spread Zika, and enhance surveillance for Zika cases in Pennsylvania.

How is Lancaster General Health working to combat the virus here in Lancaster County?

Lancaster County is working to evaluate the potential for infected mosquitoes. LG Health will continue to work closely with the county as the needs and risks are more fully understood.

Where can I go for advice or questions?

The Zika virus websites of the CDC and PA Department of Health are excellent sources of information.

  • Read "Zika and pregnancy: 4 tips women should follow," by Serena S. Wu, M.D., of Maternal Fetal Medicine.
  • Read an article on Zika virus by Joseph M. Kontra, M.D., Division Chief, Infectious Diseases, recently published in the Journal of Lancaster General Health.

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