Raising Awareness About Zika Virus Disease

In February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The disease has been reported in many countries and will likely continue to spread to new areas. No cases were acquired in the US, however there are over 500 travel associated cases reported in the US, with the most recent being a woman in New Jersey, who, while visiting from Honduras, gave birth to a baby with Microcephaly, a devastating brain defect.

Zika virus disease is caused by the Zika virus, which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of the disease are fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes) and sometimes muscle pain and headaches.  The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito.  Some people don’t realize that they have been infected. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects.  Once infected, the individual is likely to be protected from further infections.  There are no vaccines that can prevent the Zika virus disease and the incubation period is unknown but thought to be days to a week long.  There is no specific medicine to treat Zika virus disease if you are infected.  Your doctor may prescribe rest, increased fluids and medicine to reduce fever and pain.

Zika Mosquito

The best way to avoid this disease is to limit your exposure to mosquito bites of any kind. Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite mostly during the daytime. Here’s some helpful hints to help protect yourself and others from Zika virus disease:

*  When traveling outside of the US check with the Centers for Disease Control for travel health notices and protect yourself from mosquito bites.

*  If returning to the US from a foreign country, avoid mosquito bites for 3 weeks even if you don’t feel sick.  If you have Zika the virus can be found in blood and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites.  An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.

* See your doctor if you are pregnant and develop a fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes within 2 weeks after traveling to a place where Zika has been reported.

* Zika virus can be sexually transmitted by a man infected with the virus.

**** If in areas where Zika virus and other diseases are spread by mosquitoes take these precautions:

* Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

* Stay in places with air conditioning and use window and door screens
to keep mosquitoes outside.

* Take steps to control mosquitoes inside and outside your home, such as by removing sources of water outside your home where mosquitoes can be found.

* Sleep under a mosquito net if outside and unable to protect yourself from mosquito bites.

* Use insect repellants and follow the instructions:

****Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients:  DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol.  choosing an EPA-registered repellent ensures that the EPA has evaluated the product for effectiveness.  When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women.

* Always follow the product label instructions.
* Reapply insect repellent as directed.
* Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
* If you are also using sunscreen,  apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.

****To protect your child from mosquito bites:
*Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.
*Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
*Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs.
*Cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
*Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin.
*Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.

Hopefully by following these guidelines and taking the proper precautions, you should have a summer season that presents no dangers to you or your family from this disease. For more information you can contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at their web-site http://www.cdc.gov

Deacon Jerry Jablonowski
Executive Director, VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services
Diocese of Camden, New Jersey