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MSHA: Learning about Zika virus, taking correct precautions important

From Staff Reports

The Zika virus outbreak has affected South America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America over the last year. So should we be concerned about it in our region?

Jamie Swift, director of infection prevention at Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), recommends everyone be aware of Zika, how it might affect them and what preventive measures should be taken.

“We’re learning more about Zika every day, and we know the most significant impact of infection is seen in pregnant women,” Swift said. “However, anyone traveling to a Zika-affected area needs to speak with their healthcare provider about appropriate prevention measures.”

It’s important that females who wish to become pregnant talk to their physician if the woman or her sex partner has traveled, or is planning to travel, to a Zika-infected area. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released specific guidelines around this topic.

Zika (pronounced “ZEE-kah”) is initially transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, and there have been no reported mosquito-borne cases in the United States. But people who are bitten in an affected country can bring Zika back to the U.S., and the disease is also sexually transmissible.

That means there is concern about the spread of the disease as more U.S. travelers return from Zika-infected areas, MSHA reported. If they come back infected, they could spread the disease either through sex or from being bitten by mosquitoes that would then spread the virus when they bite other people. And because most people don’t experience significant symptoms, they wouldn’t realize they were infected in the first place.

It is important that everyone returning from a Zika-affected area take measures to prevent mosquito bites for at least three weeks upon their return to the U.S. That way, if someone was infected, they won’t further transmit the virus by mosquitoes.

“Symptoms are usually mild and only last a few days,” Swift said. “But Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. A lot of us have seen images of the babies born with this defect and it’s heartbreaking. So this is not something to be taken lightly.”

According to the CDC, every state in the U.S. has seen cases of Zika but all have been travel-associated. As of May 4, there had been two Zika cases in Tennessee and 13 in Virginia. North Carolina has reported 11 cases and Kentucky five.

There is no vaccine for the virus, so avoiding mosquito bites is the most important prevention method. For pregnant women, the CDC recommends avoiding travel to areas with Zika. They should also talk to their physician about steps to prevent mosquito bites and to prevent getting Zika through sex.

Here are a few facts from the CDC about Zika:

  • The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).
  • The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
  • People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.
  • Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

Swift said Mountain States continues to stay on top of the situation.

“We’re monitoring the CDC interim guidelines daily and we’re pushing out updates to physicians, pediatric areas and family birth centers,” Swift said. “And we’re staying in close contact with the departments of health in Tennessee and Virginia. If any Zika testing is necessary, we’ll do that in coordination with our health departments and the CDC.

“As far as treatment of someone infected with Zika, at this time standard precautions are used and there’s no isolation required.”

For more information on Zika and its prevention, visit