Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Wellness > Health

Should You Be Worried About the Zika Virus?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at VCU chapter.

A virus that has been around for decades has become a larger problem in the United States. The Zika virus has carried over to the U.S. and may put more at risk than previously thought.

What is the Zika virus and how is it spread?

Zika virus is a member of the Flaviviridae family and is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes and through sexual contact. Zika virus is spread in two ways. One way is through the bite of an infected Aedes species, also known as the Asian tiger species, of mosquitoes. New-found evidence has shown that the Zika virus can also be spread sexually. In May of 2015, the Pan American Health Organization issued an alert about the first confirmed case of Zika virus spread by mosquitoes in Brazil. Since this alert, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a level two travel alert to all people traveling to regions where the virus exists. Before this alert, Zika was only in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Today, outbreaks are occurring in many countries and are continuing to spread. According to the CDC, it is difficult to determine how the virus will spread and it will change over time. Mosquitoes in America do not carry the virus. With recent outbreaks, the number of U.S. cases of the Zika virus from travelers is expected to increase.

Who is at risk?

Since Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, anyone can contract Zika. In most circumstances, Zika is not serious. Those who contract Zika virus will only experience a mild case that last up to a week. However, there has been a link between pregnant women who contract Zika virus and birth defects in their babies. This birth defect is known as microcephaly, a lifelong condition with no cure or treatment that causes a baby’s head to become much smaller than expected. Microcephaly has also been linked to seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities and problems with vision and hearing. The CDC recommends that until more is known about Zika virus, pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant should strongly consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus is or speak to a healthcare professional about how to avoid mosquito bites during the trip. The CDC says that there is no evidence that suggests that a woman who is not pregnant and contracts Zika virus will have problems with future pregnancies. The virus remains in the blood for up to week and the virus will not cause any infections in a baby that has been conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood.

In cases of sexually-transmitted Zika virus, the virus was spread by an affected man to partners during sex. From these cases, the CDC says “we know the virus can be spread when the man has symptoms, before symptoms start and after symptoms end.” The CDC has discovered that the virus can stay in semen longer than in blood, but it is unclear exactly how long the virus can stay in semen. It is unknown at this time if a woman can spread Zika to her sex partners or if Zika can be spread through oral sex. To prevent Zika through sex, the CDC recommends that couples should use a condom every time they have sex, especially those who are pregnant. 

What symptoms should I look out for and how can I protect myself?

The most common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Those ill may also experience muscle pain and headaches. These symptoms are usually mild and last up to a week. Hospitalization and death are rare. Once infected, it is likely that the patient will be immune from future infections. Out of those infected with the Zika virus, one in five will become ill. As of right now, there is no cure or vaccine for Zika virus. The only prevention for Zika is to avoid mosquito bites and to use condoms or obstain from sexual activity. People should be advised that mosquitoes that spread Zika primarily bite during the daylight hours. Any mosquito that spreads Zika virus also spread dengue and chikungunya viruses. The CDC recommends wearing long clothing, staying in a place with air conditioning, using EPA registered insect repellents and treating clothing with permethrin. 

As of March 24, the Virginia Department of Health has reported seven cases of Zika virus disease in Virginia residents to the CDC. As of Feb. 1, the World Health Organization declared the spread of Zika virus in the Americas an international emergency.

VCU Contributor Account