Only 1 in 5 people who contract Zika experience symptoms. When symptoms are present, they are generally mild and include fever, rash, joint pain, muscle pain, headache or conjunctivitis (eye redness) lasting a few days up to a week. However, clusters of a serious neurological condition known as Guillain-Barre syndrome have been identified in Brazil, El Salvador and French Polynesia, areas where the Zika virus is spreading.
Currently, the biggest concern is for pregnant women due to a possible link between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly – a neurodevelopmental disorder that results in a smaller than normal head and often, developmental issues.
While at the present time there is no scientific proof Zika causes birth defects, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says evidence is growing. Therefore, pregnant women are advised to postpone travel to Zika-affected areas including Cape Verde, Mexico, Caribbean or Pacific territories and Central and South America. Women trying to become pregnant should consult their OBGYN before visiting these areas.
Earlier this month, the CDC reported the first case of Zika virus transmission in the continental U.S. had occurred in Dallas. The virus was spread to a woman through sexual intercourse with a man who had become infected with Zika in Venezuela and recently returned to the U.S. This incident prompted the CDC to advise pregnant women to abstain from sex or use condoms if her male partner has recently traveled to areas of concern.
If Zika follows the pattern of other mosquito-borne viruses, like dengue, experts predict the U.S. would likely see smaller outbreaks in southern states such as Texas and Florida.
The Zika virus remains in the blood for approximately one week after the infection occurs. Babies conceived after the virus clears are not affected.
There is presently no vaccine or treatment for Zika, but the CDC has developed a test to identify the virus in the first week of illness and is working along with private companies to develop tests to confirm prior infection. The group is also speeding efforts to develop a Zika vaccine and are encouraging cities and states to ramp up mosquito control and eliminate breeding grounds. Pregnant and breastfeeding women can safely use EPA-registered insect repellents.
If you are pregnant and develop symptoms of Zika within 2 weeks of traveling to a country where the virus has been reported or following sexual intercourse with an infected partner, contact your obstetrician immediately.