Zika Virus: What you need to know

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Recently mosquitos have gained notoriety again by being the main culprit in the spread of the Zika virus.  You probably have a lot of questions, and we have the answers. The following are answers to the many frequent questions on the Zika Virus.

Q: What is Zika virus?
A:  Zika virus is not entirely new. It is named after the Zika forest of Uganda where it was first identified in 1947 during yellow fever surveillance. The Zika virus has been transmitted in areas such as Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands prior to 2015. It is transmitted by mosquitoes that bite mostly during the daytime.

Q:  Are Patrick AFB and Florida mosquitos infected, and what type of surveillance and control efforts are being performed?
A:  As of now, there have been no locally-acquired cases of Zika virus in Florida. Thus far, all cases diagnosed in Florida have been travel-associated, and none have involved pregnant women.  However, this may change with warmer weather and the seasonal increase of mosquito populations. Infections of mosquito borne illnesses such as dengue fever, Chikungunya, and West Nile virus have been transmitted in Florida in the past.  For instance, an outbreak of locally-acquired Dengue fever involving 66 persons between March and November of 2010, and at least 11 locally-acquired cases of Chikungunya Fever occurred in Florida in 2014.  Both are strikingly similar to Zika.  Therefore, Floridians have always been at risk and should consistently take precautions to protect against mosquito breeding and bites. 

During warmer months, and as needed, mosquitos are routinely trapped and tested for diseases on base.  This serves as a surveillance tool for disease and helps to guide frequency of mosquito spraying by the Entomology office. 

To stay updated on where the Zika virus has been found, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html

Q:  How do I know if I have Zika?
A:  You may never know that you have been infected with Zika. About 1 in 5 people infected become noticeably ill, according to the CDC. In other words, 80 percent of those infected experience symptoms, which are so mild, they are barely aware of them. Those who do become ill may develop fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes (conjunctivitis). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache.  Symptoms will usually last for several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon, and deaths caused by the Zika virus are rare.

Q:  Is there a vaccine or treatment?
A:  No vaccines or medications are currently available to prevent or specifically treat for Zika. Infected persons are usually advised to get plenty of rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration, and utilize acetaminophen for fever reduction and pain relief until the infection clears (note: aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should not be taken).  If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.
If you have Zika, or suspect you might, you should prevent other mosquito bites for the first week of your illness.  During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people. 

Q:  Why are pregnant women being advised not to go to affected areas, and what is microcephaly?
A:  The increasing incidence of microcephaly in Brazil is believed to be linked with Zika virus infections in pregnant women.  Microcephaly is a birth defect that results in incomplete brain development and a small head in infants born to mothers who have contracted the Zika virus. Typically, this condition is rare; however, Brazil has seen around 4,000 cases since May 2015; which raises concerns and has prompted investigation into the role of mosquito borne illnesses. 

Microcephaly can lead to seizures, developmental delays, hearing loss, vision loss, and premature death.  This association has elevated the potential consequences of a growing outbreak, and pregnant women are strongly advised to avoid areas in which Zika virus has been transmitted, such as several Caribbean islands, parts of South America, and others. Pregnant women should routinely protect themselves from mosquitos.  Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not recommended against repellant use by pregnant women.

The virus will not cause infections in an infant that is conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood.  There is currently no evidence that the Zika virus infection poses a risk of birth defects in future pregnancies.  A woman contemplating pregnancy, who has recently recovered from Zika virus infection, should consult her healthcare provider after recovering. 

If you are not planning on getting pregnant but aren't planning to NOT get pregnant, then you should always take precautions against pregnancy and the spread of infection via sexually transmitted routes.   

Q:  Can Zika be transmitted other than by mosquitos?
A:  It appears that sexual transmission of the Zika virus is a possibility. Texas health officials have recently reported such a case. In fact, there are numerous diseases which can be transmitted sexually: chlamydia, HIV/AIDS, herpes virus, Ebola, gonorrhea, etc. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to consistently use protection when engaging in sexual activity. 

Furthermore, an individual is much more likely to contract an infection of chlamydia than Zika from sexual intercourse, which deems routine chlamydia screening just as important as mosquito repellent, even when no symptoms are observed, especially for women. Contrary to popular belief, military members are not immune to STDs and actually record higher rates of Chlamydia than in civilian populations of the same demographic, according to the CDC. Therefore, sound sexual practices and consistent use of protection are even more essential to protecting yourself from both known and unknown risks. 

*Male condoms are available at no charge at the Patrick AFB Public Health office, and laboratory testing for commonly silent infections, such as chlamydia, is available through your Patrick AFB primary care providers.

Q:  How can I help stop the spread of Zika? 
A:  Everyone can play a role in stopping Zika by eliminating mosquito breeding sites and utilizing proper mosquito protection tools. Breeding sites include any locations of standing water such as pool covers, flower pots, old tires, unused pet water bowls, and other sites where water has collected.  Be sure to reduce exposure to mosquitos when possible, wear clothes that cover the skin, and apply repellent with DEET and picaridin (KBR 3023). Finally, utilize the previously stated information on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. For more information on the Zika virus or to attain informative posters to display in common areas, visit the CDC website http://www.cdc.gov/zika/fs-posters/index.html

For more information, contact the 45th Medical Group Public Health Office, (321) 494-8193/8292, or visit the CDC's Zika Virus Home Page at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html

Editor's Note: Information used in the article can be attributed and found at Centers For Disease Control and Prevention website.