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What’s the deal with Zika?

As summer settles in and brings with it heat, humidity and itchy arms from mosquito bites, I find myself wondering: What happened to Zika?  I must not have been alone because in a recent office visit, a patient asked about the virus and whether or not it is still something to be worried about or if we had finally gotten rid of it. 

In 2016 there was an uptick of Zika virus advisories and abundant news coverage, however over the past couple of years news coverage about the Zika virus has died down leaving many people wondering if they should still exercise caution while traveling or at home.  The short answer: YES.   

The Zika virus is still very much around and a major public health concern for reproductive aged women.  As of 2018, 114 infants in the United States and 166 cases in U.S. territories have been born with birth defects attributed to the Zika virus.   In terms of prevention, we have yet to develop a vaccine against the virus. Moreover, the long-term consequences of the virus are still largely unknown. 

I have put together a quick resource guide on what you need to know about the Zika virus because  if you are anything like me, Google can be overwhelming and/or lead you down a rabbit hole. (For example: start with the intention of researching Zika virus only to end by clicking on ad for 4th of July sale and buying stuff I don’t need.)   For the most up to date information refer to CDC.gov. 

How can I get the virus?

  • Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of a the Aedes species of mosquito (NOTE: not all mosquitoes carry the virus)

  • The virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus

  • The virus can be passed sexually 

  • A person with the virus can spread it by being bitten by a mosquito that subsequently bites another person

Who should be tested for the Zika virus?

  • A traveler or partner who has been to an area with a Zika outbreak and develops symptoms 

What are the symptoms?

  • Most people who are infected won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms

  • Most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis

  • Symptoms usually last about a week

When should I conceive if I have traveled to a Zika outbreak area?

  • For females: use condoms or do not have sex for at least two months after travel 

  • For males: use condoms or do not have sex for at least three months after travel  

What are the potential affects to my pregnancy and baby if I test positive for the Zika virus?

  • Microcephaly (small head circumference) and other severe brain defects

  • Neurologic problems such as seizures

  • Developmental delays

  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, or impaired growth

Is there a medication to prevent the virus?

  • No.  The best way to prevent the virus is to prevent mosquito bites.

  • Use EPA-registered insect repellent

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants

  • Stay in places with air conditioning or window and door screens

  • Remove standing water around your home

But can I please go to my all-inclusive vacation that we already planned?

  • We strongly recommend against all travel to Zika affected or at risk areas. 

Can my partner travel to a Zika outbreak area?

  • Sure…

  • But use condoms the right way every time if you have vaginal, oral or anal sex

  • Or do not have sex during the pregnancy


Here is a link to the Zika travel map for the most recent travel recommendations: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information.

Please contact us if you have any questions travel, pregnancy, and the Zika virus.

Dr. Ankita Desai
Durham Women’s Clinic