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Zika Virus: Information to Protect Your Health

The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted infection named after the Ugandan forest where it was first discovered. Unlike other mosquito-transmitted infections, there is no vaccination to prevent or treat the Zika virus currently. Though becoming severely ill from the Zika virus is rare, it is important to know the facts and how to protect yourself from the virus. 

Risk Factors

Anyone who is living in or traveling to an area where the Zika virus is found is at risk for infection. Because health experts are investigating the potential link between the Zika virus and a spike in the number of infants being born with microcephaly (a neurological condition in which an infant’s brain does not grow properly and results in an abnormally small head size), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued travel alerts advising women who are pregnant or who could be pregnant against traveling to affected areas.

The list of affected countries is ever-changing, but the following link provides the most updated information: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information. 

Symptoms

Approximately one out of every five individuals infected with the Zika virus will exhibit symptoms. These symptoms are typically mild in nature and last between a few days to a week. The most common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint pain
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache

There is a possibility that the Zika virus is linked to microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome, an extremely rare condition in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. However, experts have yet to prove a definitive correlation between these two conditions and the Zika virus. 

Prevention

The best way to avoid infection is to avoid traveling to areas that are experiencing Zika virus outbreaks. Also, the following is a list of steps you can take to help control mosquitoes and decrease your chances of being bitten:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when going into mosquito-infested areas, especially during the day, when the mosquito that carries the Zika virus is most active.
  • Mosquitoes breed and multiply in standing water. Eliminate standing water in your yard. This includes unclogging roof gutters, changing the water in birdbaths and emptying unused swimming pools.
  • Use insect repellents that are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and be sure to follow the label’s instructions. If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent. Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than two months old.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items. Do not apply permethrin directly to the skin.
  • Mosquitoes can live indoors and will bite at any time, day or night. Use air conditioning to cool off your home and be sure that screens are on all windows and doors, especially if you often leave them open.

Global health experts are actively studying the Zika virus and are hopeful that medical breakthroughs will be made soon that can help prevent and treat this infection.

Zika Virus FAQs

Q. What are the symptoms of the Zika virus?
A. Although many people infected with Zika virus won’t have any symptoms – or will experience only mild ones – common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, headache and muscle pain lasting several days to a week. If you develop these symptoms or have any health care questions related to Zika, talk to your primary care doctor or a local health care provider. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital and rarely die from Zika. Pregnant women are most at risk because they can transfer the virus to the baby. This can lead to potential serious birth defects.

Q. Is there a vaccine for Zika?
A. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika.

Q. How do I find out if I have Zika?
A. Many people who get infected won’t get diagnosed because the symptoms are so mild and last 7-10 days. However, if you think you have been infected, a diagnosis can be made based on your recent travel history, your symptoms, and test results. Your doctor may order blood tests to look for the virus. A blood or urine test can confirm a Zika infection.

Q. I’m pregnant. (OR:  I’m thinking about becoming pregnant.) What should I do to help protect myself and my baby? A. Plan ahead to protect yourself and your loved ones against the Zika virus. Avoid, if possible, traveling to areas with a history of recent Zika transmission. If your partner has traveled to a Zika-infected area, either abstain from sex or use a condom during sex. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Zika page for the most up-to-date information and guidance. For more information, you can call the Zika Virus Information 24/7 Hotline at 855-622-6735.

Q. What do I need to do before I travel somewhere?
A. It’s a good idea to check Zika travel notices on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/zika. They will have the latest information available.

Q. Where can I find out more about Zika virus?
A. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Zika page for the most up-to-date information and guidance. For more information, you can call the Zika Virus Information 24/7 Hotline at 855-622-6735.

Q. What are the insurance companies doing about this health care issue?
A. Undoubtedly all insurance carriers are closely monitoring this developing medical issue and staying connected to the CDC and the respective state health departments, as well as monitoring local health agencies. Carriers in the Florida market, where the most significant number of cases have been reported, are currently involved in planning educational sessions across the state and are routinely communicating with members via email, web and blog posts.