7/01/16

Protect yourself: Zika virus from A to Z

The Zika virus has received a lot of attention and poses a public health threat. While not as life-threatening as Ebola, the mosquito-borne illness can cause severe birth defects.

It may seem like we read new news about Zika each week. What is fact and what is fiction? 

Franklyn Christensen, MD, (pictured) is a Maternal Fetal Medicine physician at Carle. He has been studying mosquito-borne diseases for several years and is a member of the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Zika task force. Jeff Blackford, LEHP, is program coordinator of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Environmental Health Division. He is in charge of local mosquito monitoring and abatement programs to lower risk of West Nile and other illnesses that spread through mosquitoes.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are Zika symptoms?

Dr. Christensen: Zika is a relatively mild illness in adults. Symptoms include fever, joint pain, rash and red eyes.

Is Zika fatal?

Dr. Christensen: No. Only one in five adults infected with Zika get sick and those who do will recover. The biggest Zika threat is for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. If they have the Zika virus in their bodies, it can cause microcephaly--a severe birth defect in newborn babies.

What is microcephaly? Is it curable?

Dr. Christensen: It’s a birth defect where the baby’s head is small because the brain hasn’t developed properly. Unfortunately we don’t have a cure. We can only treat the baby’s microcephaly with physical therapy.

Can people get Zika virus if they haven’t been bitten by a mosquito or been out of the country?

Dr. Christensen: Yes. People get Zika two ways: Through a mosquito bite from a certain mosquito native to Latin America and through sexual contact with someone who is infected with the virus. Health officials recommend that couples avoid pregnancy for six months after a man has had the Zika virus.

Is there a Zika vaccine?

Dr. Christensen: Not yet, but researchers are working to develop a vaccine. Until then, people need to take precautions if they or a loved one travel to Latin America.

Are there people with Zika in Illinois?

Blackford: The latest numbers from the Illinois Department of Public Health show that 23 people in Illinois have been diagnosed with Zika. All 23 people got Zika through travel

Do mosquitoes in Illinois carry the Zika virus?

Blackford: The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the primary carrier of the Zika virus. It is rare to absent in most of Illinois, because that particular species cannot survive our winters.  The Tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is believed to be a potential carrier and has been found in the Champaign area for the past several years.  It is a backyard breeding mosquito generally found in artificial containers in urban areas.  It is important for the public to remove standing water from their property during mosquito season.

How can people in Illinois get Zika?

Blackford: The biggest threat of Zika spreading in Illinois is from people travelling to Latin America, getting the Zika virus there, coming home and spreading the virus to others through sexual contact or potentially though mosquito bites.

What should women do if they or a loved one plans on travelling to areas with Zika?

Dr. Christensen: Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant and plan on travelling to Latin America must be very careful. I recommend they avoid getting pregnant while travelling and immediately after.

When can people start trying to get pregnant after travel to Latin America?

Dr. Christensen: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says if a person hasn’t gotten sick 12 days after returning, it is safe to try and get pregnant. But, the Zika virus can stay in the body, even if people don’t get sick. To be extra safe, a couple should wait two to six months. Women should talk with their doctor about Zika and family planning.

What should people do?

Both Christensen and Blackford recommend following CDC recommendations to prevent mosquito bites and prevent mosquito breeding areas around your home.

For more information about mosquito protection locally, contact Champaign-Urbana Public Health District at (217) 352-7961.

Those travelling to areas with Zika should talk with their doctor before their trip and heed the latest CDC travel recommendations.