This week the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency. That’s a big deal, so here’s what you should know.
The Zika virus is transmitted through mosquito bites. Symptoms include fever, rash, and joint pain, and, conjunctivitis. Most importantly, a link between Zika and birth defects in babies, specifically microcephaly—abnormal smallness of the brain—and possible vision and hearing defects is strongly suspected.
There currently is no vaccine for the virus. The WHO’s decision to declare it a public health emergency may help speed up the process of finding one, but there are no guarantees.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising women who are pregnant or may become pregnant not to travel to 22 countries in Latin America and South America. A list of the countries currently affected can be found on the CDC’s website. El Salvador went so far as to ask women to avoid getting pregnant until 2018.
The CDC is also recommending virus screening in pregnant women as well as Zika testing for at-risk newborn infants in any case where the mother has visited or lived in an affected country.
Our advice, is to follow the CDC’s advice (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/prenatal/Pages/Zika-Virus.aspx . If it all possible, avoid traveling to the affected countries, and if you have recently been in those countries, you and your infant should be tested as soon as possible.
New evidence points to further spread of the virus through sexual activity. This vector complicates and intensifies the efforts to control this virus. Please continue to monitor the cdc.gov website for daily updates.