What You Should Know about the Zika Virus

Zika virus disease is a mosquito-borne infection that is related to dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile virus. First discovered in Uganda in 1947, Zika virus disease did not begin spreading to South and Central America until 2015. The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with microcephaly (small head size), as well as other birth defects.  

zika photoThere have been cases of Zika virus disease in the United States in people who traveled to countries or territories where the virus is being transmitted and in individuals whose sex partner traveled to a Zika-affected area.  To date, there have been a total of 8 confirmed cases of Zika virus infection amongst New Hampshire residents who were infected during travel to a Zika affected area.  It is important to note that Zika virus is not present in mosquitoes in NH and there is no evidence of sustained populations of the Zika virus mosquito vectors, Aedes  aegypti and Aedes albopictus, in NH.  The NH Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) has plans to expand mosquito surveillance, however, local transmission of Zika virus by mosquitoes should be considered extremely unlikely at this time.

Approximately 80% of people who are infected with the Zika virus do not develop symptoms. In those who do become ill, the disease is usually mild and lasts from several days to a week. The symptoms of Zika virus infection include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.

In January 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory for people planning to visit countries where Zika virus is being transmitted by mosquitoes.  There are currently 52 countries and territories reporting local transmission of Zika virus infection. The NH DPHS recommends that pregnant women consider postponing travel to any affected areas, and women and their partners who are planning to become pregnant should take steps to prevent mosquito bites while in Zika affected areas, including the use of insect repellents.  It is unknown how long the virus persists in semen; studies to assess this are ongoing.  Therefore, it is recommended that men who have lived in or traveled to regions where Zika virus is being transmitted by mosquitoes and who have a pregnant sex partner should abstain from sex or consistently and correctly use condoms during the partner’s pregnancy. Anyone planning to travel should talk to their healthcare provider or visit a travel medicine clinic prior to any travel.

Additional resources:

1.) NH DPHS Zika Virus Webpage: http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/cdcs/zika/index.htm

2.) NH DPHS Zika Virus Fact Sheet: http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/cdcs/zika/documents/zika-virus-fact-sheet.pdf

3.) CDC Zika Virus Webpage: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html

4.) CDC Zika Virus Prevention Webpage: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/index.html  
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