Published October 24, 2016

You’ve probably heard about Zika virus disease (Zika), an infection that spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito (Aedes aegypti and Aedes aldopictus). These mosquitos typically inhabit tropical and subtropical climates, but they also live in certain areas of the continental United States, including Florida, Texas and other Southern states. This summer, health officials in Miami identified locally-transmitted cases of Zika.

Current research from experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly and is associated with other pregnancy problems including eye defects, hearing loss and impaired growth.

Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. It occurs when the baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy or stopped growing after birth. Children born with microcephaly will face a variety of lifelong challenges, ranging from learning disabilities and balance problems, to seizures, and vision and hearing loss. It is a rare condition in the United States today, with only 2-12 cases recorded for every 10,000 live births.

Being informed about Zika and how it spreads can help you protect yourself and your family. Here are five things you should know about Zika:

1. How does Zika spread?

Zika primarily spreads through infected mosquitoes. Zika can also spread through sexual contact from an infected person to a non-infected person. The best way to protect yourself and others from Zika is to prevent mosquito bites and protect yourself during sexual contact.

2. What are the symptoms?

While the majority of those infected with Zika will experience no symptoms during infection, some may only experience mild symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint pain
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)

Other symptoms include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Headache

These symptoms can last several days or up to one week. Those infected do not usually get sick enough to go to the hospital and rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many may not realize they have the Zika virus.

3. Why should I pay attention to Zika virus?

Zika virus is of particular concern to pregnant women. A pregnant woman infected with Zika can transmit the virus to her unborn child, putting the baby at risk for a number of serious birth defects, including microcephaly. Additional research is necessary to determine how likely the virus is to pass to an unborn child and how likely the virus is to result in birth defects. The CDC advises pregnant women not to travel to areas with Zika virus.

4. How can I prevent Zika virus?

The best way to prevent diseases spread by mosquitoes is to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites. You can prevent mosquito bites by taking steps like wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside and use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellants. You can also take steps to control mosquitoes both inside and outside of your home. If you live in or travel to an area with Zika, take precautions to protect yourself and partners during sexual activity. If you are planning a pregnancy, consider continuing to use safe sex precautions or not having sex for at least 8 weeks after returning from travel.

5. Is there a vaccine?

There is not currently a vaccine available to prevent Zika virus.

For more information about Zika virus and how to protect yourself and your family, reference the CDC’s Zika resources.

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