Deep Notch Winter photo credit Francis X Driscoll

Zika Virus

Diagnoses in the United States and in New York State are expected to increase due to travel related infections; however there have been no direct transmissions of the virus in the United States to date.

zika virusCourtesy of the CDC

What is it?
Simply, Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that commonly causes mild illness but poses a serious threat to healthy fetal development in pregnant women. It is similar in transmission to West Nile, dengue and yellow fever, but lacks a vaccine or specific treatment. Outside of the United States, thousands of cases of babies born with developmental issues of the brain, namely microcephalyhave been documented. In rare cases, paralysis can occur caused by Guillain-Barre syndrome, also associated with Zika virus.

Where is it?
Currently, there have been no documented direct transmissions in the United States – those patients that have been seen and diagnosed in the United States are believed to have been infected elsewhere in places like the Caribbean, Brazil and Central America. To keep up to date with the current locations of the virus, click here.

How do people get infected?
Zika virus is currently transmitted to humans when bitten by a specific species of mosquito that is not found in New York State and does not survive the Northeastern climate. During the warmer months, there is a possibility for another species of mosquito, located in the southern portion of New York below Orange County, to pass the virus but it is not known whether or not this will actually occur.
There has also been documented evidence of mother-to-fetus transmission which may occur at any time during pregnancy. For this reason, the CDC has recommended that pregnant women, and women who may become pregnant, avoid traveling to areas where Zika is occurring. For more information on transmission during pregnancy, click here. Studies are currently being done to determine if there are any other ways to transfer the virus.

Signs and Symptoms
For most, the virus is generally mild with about 1 in 5 patients experiencing symptoms, meaning many who have been infected will not realize it. Those who do experience symptoms may have:

  • Muscle and/or joint pain
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)

Symptoms may begin anywhere from two to seven days from transmission and last several days to one week. Hospitalization due to symptoms is uncommon and fatalities are rare; however pregnant women are advised to use special precautions and seek medical care immediately as the virus is particularly aggressive toward their unborn child and may lead to poor pregnancy outcomes. Microcephaly has been documented in thousands of births to Zika-infected mothers. Those wishing to become pregnant are being advised to consider delaying conception until 21 days after travel to an affected area.

How is it prevented?
There is no Zika-specific treatment at the moment and there is no vaccine. Currently, only the symptoms of Zika virus are being treated and guidance is being formulated on the treatment of pregnant women who have become infected. The most effective preventative measure is to avoid mosquitos in Zika-related areas. To avoid mosquito bites:

  • Wear light colored long sleeves and pants
  • Use mosquito repellent/bug spray
  • Be sure to keep screens in windows and doors in good working order
  • Avoid areas of standing water

What we are doing
We are currently monitoring the situation and educating ourselves about the virus to be prepared to address your health-related questions and concerns. We recommend that you use the same precaution that you would to avoid tick and other insect bites. Use an EPA-approved insect repellent when outdoors and keep skin covered as much as possible with clothing. Follow the CDC’s guidance when thinking about your travel plans. Be mindful of the signs and symptoms and always be sure to follow up with your healthcare provider if you have any concern that you may be infected. Tell your healthcare provider about your travel activities.

At this time, Zika virus has not posed a direct threat to Greene County outside of those traveling to affected countries. The NYS DOH will be testing mosquitos in the lower portions of New York State once the weather becomes warmer to monitor whether or not the virus becomes actively transmitted here.

To learn more about New York State and Zika Virus, follow along here.