If you’ve been watching the news, you may be starting to worry about the Zika virus. A generally mild illness on its own, it can cause serious birth defects and is spreading rapidly via mosquito bites.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Where does the Zika virus come from?
The Zika virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. It is typically associated with tropical climates and was originally reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.
2. What are Aedes mosquitoes?
Aedes is a genus of mosquitoes that are known to transmit many different viruses. Some others you may have heard of include Dengue fever, yellow fever, and chikungunya.
These mosquitoes are considered aggressive daytime biters but can also bite at night.
3. What is it like for an adult to be infected with Zika virus?
Believe it or not, only about 1 in 5 people infected with the Zika virus will actually get sick.
For those who do get sick, the symptoms are relatively mild and last several days to a week. The most common signs and symptoms include fever, skin rash, pink eye (conjunctivitis), muscle and joint pain, a general feeling of discomfort, and headache.
4. What about the birth defect complications?
This is what has everyone worried. The Zika virus can cause microcephaly in the unborn baby of a pregnant woman who has been bitten by an infected mosquito.
Microcephaly is a rare birth defect that results in abnormal smallness of the head. It is associated with incomplete brain development.
See the CDC’s Q&A on Zika and pregnancy for more information.
5. Is there a vaccine available to prevent Zika?
No. There is no vaccine available yet. There is also no medication to treat Zika.
6. Where should I be worried about traveling?
There is a travel advisory from the CDC for Zika virus in the following areas:
- Pacific Islands
- Central America
- South America
- Cape Verde
You should use caution when considering traveling to these destinations, especially if you’re pregnant—in this case, that may mean postponing your trip, or taking extra care to prevent mosquito bites if traveling is unavoidable.
7. Have there been any cases of Zika in the US?
Only travel-associated cases—so, only cases in travelers visiting or returning to the US from countries where Zika is found.
However, there are Aedes mosquitoes in the US that could spread the Zika virus, and it it likely that the virus could start to spread locally here. It’s a good idea to take precautions now to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
8. How can I better protect myself against mosquito bites?
These steps will go a long way toward keeping mosquito bites to a minimum:
- Wear insect repellent
- Wearing light-colored clothing that covers as much of the body as possible
- Use physical barriers to protect your home, like screens or closed doors and windows
- Sleep under mosquito nets
- Make sure you have no standing water near your house where mosquitoes can breed
Want more information? Check out this Zika virus overview from the CDC.