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The Zika virus: What you need to know

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Originally found in Africa in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the recent outbreak in Brazil and the possible link to birth defects that the Zika virus became an international issue. Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause flu-like symptoms but very rarely leads to death. The main symptoms of Zika are fever, aches, rash or eye redness, but only 20 percent of individuals infected will experience symptoms at all.

Treatment of symptoms normally includes getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids to avoid dehydration and taking acetaminophen to relieve fever and aches.

The only reported cases of Zika virus in the United States have been travel-related, or brought back to the U.S. by recent travelers to infected countries, and the virus has not spread locally. When traveling to countries where Zika virus has been found, take the following steps to avoid mosquito bites and prevent infection:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are outside.
  • Use insect repellants for the body and clothing.

Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby. There have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies of mothers who had Zika virus while pregnant. Knowledge of the link between Zika and birth defects is still evolving, but until more is known, pregnant women in any trimester should take special precautions and consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus is spreading.

If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.

Spokesperson Background:

Dr. Cynthia Snider is an infectious diseases specialist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at Cone Health.  She earned her medical degree at the University of Utah in 2005, where she had the opportunity to do research in Uganda with adolescents born with HIV. Dr. Snider completed her internal medicine residency and infectious diseases fellowship at the University of Virginia. During fellowship, she pursued her interest in global health by conducting research in diarrheal and respiratory illnesses in children in Bangladesh. She is a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Society of Healthcare Epidemiology of America. Her clinical interests in infectious diseases include HIV medicine, global health/travel medicine, and hospital epidemiology.