February 05, 2016
Maggie Rotermund

What Should You Know about Zika Virus?

The Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday confirmed the first 2016 case of Zika Virus transmitted by sexual contact, rather than mosquito bite, in the United States. All previous U.S. cases of Zika were transmitted by mosquito after the patient visited an infected country.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito. 

What does this mean for U.S. residents?

Alexander Garza, M.D., MPH, Associate Dean for Public Health Practice, as well as Chair and Professor in Environmental & Occupational Health at Saint Louis University's College for Public Health and Social Justice, said the challenge with Zika is that facts are still emerging and not much is known about the disease.

"I'd say it is a new wrinkle in the battle against Zika," Garza told Fox2Now on Feb. 3. "And the reason for that is first of all Zika is still fairly difficult to detect. The majority of patients don't have any symptoms."

He notes this is only the third confirmed case of Zika being sexually transmitted or found in semen. 

The CDC confirmation follows an announcement Monday by the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring Zika a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

Zika is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, according to the WHO. It can also be transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes albopictus mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. The association between Zika and with neonatal microcephaly is strong.

"However, we can't say (definitively that) birth defects in babies are caused by Zika. We don't know that at this point," Garza said. "There is a strong association and a major reason for concern."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women avoid travel to Zika-affected countries. That list includes more than 25 countries including Mexico, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Stephen Braddock, M.D., a professor in the Department of Pediatrics, director of the Division of Medical Genetics and a SLUCare pediatrician at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, has five recommendations for anyone thinking of traveling to Zika endemic areas.

  • For women planning pregnancy or currently pregnant, consider postponing travel.
  • For travelers in those areas, avoid mosquito bites by using effective insect repellents (okay during pregnancy if used as labeled), wear long sleeve shirts, long pants and hats, sleep in a screened area or air conditioned rooms or under mosquito bed/netting sprayed with insect repellent.
  • For women traveling to endemic countries, avoid becoming pregnant during her stay and for four weeks after leaving the endemic area.
  • Since sexual transmission has been documented in a few cases, men visiting those endemic countries are advised to practice safe sex to prevent transmission through bodily fluids during their stay and for four weeks after leaving the endemic area.
  • Avoid blood donation for 28 days after leaving an endemic area.

"I would recommend pregnant women returning from endemic areas have close follow up by a high risk pregnancy specialist (MFM), even if they are asymptomatic (since most infected people are)," Braddock said. "This would include considering appropriate ultrasound examination on all pregnant women in endemic areas or those who had travelled to endemic areas."

Jaye Shyken, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health, Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and a SLUCare OB/GYN at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital, also recommends pregnant women who have visited a country impacted by the Zika outbreak check in with their OB/GYN when they return home.

"It is especially important to report symptoms," she said. "There are different protocols for symptomatic versus asymptomatic patients."

SLU experts in various fields have shared information on several facets of the Zika Virus story. To learn more, click here.

SLU Experts Weigh in on Zika Virus

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