Zika is the four-letter word that seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. Local, state, national and worldwide public health officials are closely monitoring the spread of the virus throughout Central and South American, Mexico and the Caribbean.
For people who live in or travel to those areas, Zika may pose a risk. If you plan to travel to these regions, perhaps for the Olympics in Rio this summer, you should keep a close eye on health advisories.
But for most residents of Northern Virginia, it is important to be aware but not alarmed.
Our Health Department experts held a recent online chat to answer your questions. A lot of your questions focused on mosquitoes, of course, including if we will screen for Zika once mosquitoes emerge this spring/summer.
“Although mosquito testing for Zika virus is not currently in place, we do hope to have that option available during the mosquito season,” said Joshua Smith, the Disease Carrying Insects Program Manager. “We do have different types of mosquito traps that we use in our surveillance activities and one of them is an effective surveillance trap for the Asian Tiger mosquito, a potential carrier of the Zika virus.”
Here’s what you need to know to stay safe and healthy.
Zika is a virus that is spread primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. To limit the spread to others, people with the virus are advised to avoid mosquitoes for 7 days after their symptoms start.
In rare cases, Zika may also be transmitted through sexual contact or from a mother to her child during pregnancy. But there is still more to be learned about becoming infected in these ways.
Zika virus is generally a mild illness. Most people with Zika virus infection do not experience symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and include fever, rash, muscle and joint pain, red eyes caused by conjunctivitis (pink eye) and headache, which can last up to a week. However, there is a possible association between Zika virus infection in pregnant women and subsequent birth defects, including microcephaly (small head and brain size).
While researchers learn more about the risk of Zika virus infection during pregnancy, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant to talk with their healthcare provider about postponing travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.
Anyone who must travel to such areas should take steps to avoid mosquito bites, and contact a health care provider if they experience symptoms.
Most cases in the United States involve travelers returning from Zika-affected areas, including one in Virginia. However, more infections are likely as people travel to and from areas where the disease is currently being transmitted. To see the most current list, go to www.cdc.gov/zika/.
The Virginia Department of Health and Fairfax County Health Department continue to monitor the Zika situation closely and will provide additional information as new information arises.
There is no vaccine to prevent Zika, so the best thing to do is avoid mosquito bites. Of course, it’s not mosquito season right now in the county, but as noted above, it is possible for local mosquitoes to carry the virus this spring and summer.
CDC advises people to:
- Use an EPA-approved mosquito repellents on clothing and exposed skin. Read and follow label instructions and be sure to apply repellent after applying sunscreen. Use the repellent day and night because the mosquito species that transmit Zika virus are daytime biters that will also enter buildings and bite at night
- Wear loose, light-colored clothing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when possible.
- Treat clothing with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated clothing.
- Sleep indoors in rooms with air conditioning or window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside, or use a bed net.
CDC also advises these steps to prevent mosquito breeding:
- Empty standing water from containers such as buckets, bowls, flower pots and vases.
- If you cannot easily empty water from a container, treat the water with a larvicide that will help control mosquitoes in the water. Read and follow label instructions when using a larvicide.
- If mosquitoes are flying and biting, use an insecticide to control the mosquitoes in your yard. Read and follow label instructions when using an insecticide.
Because of recent reports of transmission of Zika virus from infected men to their sexual partners, CDC has issued recommendations for preventing sexual transmission after travel to a Zika-affected country. If a man’s partner is pregnant, it is recommended that the couple abstain from sex or use condoms for the duration of the partner’s pregnancy.
Although sexual transmission of Zika virus is possible, mosquito bites remain the primary way Zika is spread.
Have more questions about Zika?
More information on Zika can also be found at: