Zika Virus Q&A: What Parents Need to Know - Promise
Q&A: Zika Virus from the experts at Nemours Children's Health System

Zika Virus Q&A: What Parents Need to Know

It’s coming up on spring break time, when families, teens and young adults start planning travel to warmer climates. But with all of the buzz about Zika, you may have some questions. Here is what we know, for sure, right now.

Q: What, exactly, is the Zika virus?

A: Zika virus is a type of flavivirus, which is a family of viruses transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes. Although it’s been in the news lately, Zika was discovered in 1947 and is named after a forest in Uganda.

Q: What are the symptoms and treatment?

A: Most people (4 out of 5) don’t know they’ve been infected with Zika virus because they don’t have any symptoms. The 20 percent of people who do experience symptoms usually have a mild illness for about a week to 10 days, with fever, rash, joint pain and pinkeye (without the pus). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. Zika infections go away without any specific treatment.

Q: How severe is it?

A: The illness is usually mild. Symptoms usually last for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Severe illness and fatalities are very rare, and almost everyone makes a full recovery. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

Q: How is the virus transmitted?

A: Zika virus is primarily transmitted by the bite of the Aedes mosquito. You can protect yourself from mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, using insect repellant, and staying in places with air conditioning or window screens. There have also been reports of sexual transmission of Zika virus. Using condoms can help prevent the spread of the virus as well as other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Q: Is the virus here in the U.S.?

A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), no local mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases have been reported in the United States, but there have been travel-associated cases (travelers visiting or returning to the United States who contracted the virus abroad). At this time, there is no travel warning in effect to avoid certain U.S. states or regions.

Q: What do we know about pregnant woman and danger to a fetus — at what point is the fetus most vulnerable to the disease?

A: Zika virus has been linked to a serious birth defect called “microcephaly” in babies of mothers who had the virus while pregnant. It is not known which stage of pregnancy is most vulnerable. Until more is known, the CDC is advising pregnant women to avoid traveling to areas where the virus is spreading.

Get the latest updates and news by visiting the CDC’s Zika virus page.

Karen Ravin, MD

About Karen Ravin, MD

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Dr. Karen Ravin is Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del.