The Zika virus is a virus that is carried by the Aedes species of mosquito. If a human is bitten by an infected mosquito, the infection can be passed to them. The illness associated with the Zika virus includes fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). It is typically not particularly severe, and the infected person usually recovers spontaneously in several days to a week. It’s not known definitively how long it takes to get sick once bitten by an infected mosquito, but it is likely a few days to a week. In addition to the mosquito bite transmission, it has also been documented to have been spread from person to person via sexual contact and blood transfusion, but not via airborne transmission.
The reason that Zika virus infection has become a significant public health concern is that some severe birth defects have been reported in association with Zika virus infection in pregnant women. The full spectrum of birth defects is not yet known, but infants born to women who contracted Zika virus infection during pregnancy have been born with microcephaly. Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly.
Where is Zika Virus infection prevalent?
The area of documented Zika virus transmission has been expanding in the Americas and in some areas overseas. The predominant areas of transmission have been in Mexico, Central America, and nations in northern and central South America. Transmission has also been documented in some of the Caribbean islands, the Cape Verde Islands, and American Samoa and Samoa. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has an excellent map showing areas of known transmission at: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html.
The CDC classifies travel recommendations in three levels:
- Watch Level 1 (Green)-Practice Usual Precautions
- Alert Level 2 (Yellow)-Practice Enhanced Precautions
- Warning Level 3 (Red)-Avoid Nonessential Travel
The nations where Zika virus transmission has been documented are currently at Level 2 status regarding travel. The CDC does not recommend avoiding travel to these nations, and the enhanced precautions involve precautions against mosquito bites-the use of insect repellant, coverage with clothing, and protection of sleeping spaces from mosquitoes. Educational material regarding mosquito bite prevention is available at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/fs-posters/index.html.
One group of patients for whom travel recommendations differ is women who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant. Out of an abundance of precaution, the CDC is recommending that these women consider postponing nonessential travel to areas where transmission has been documented. If they must go, it is recommended that they speak with their physicians and practice mosquito bite prevention practices.
The nurses and physicians at Student Health Services have been alerted to the symptoms of Zika virus infection and know to inquire about travel in patients with such symptoms. If Zika virus infection is suspected, SHS will report the case to local public health authorities and order testing as deemed appropriate. Treatment of the suspected Zika patient is similar to other viral illnesses, and the patient will also be instructed in mosquito bite prevention to try and limit spread from themselves to others. SHS will work closely with local public health officials in this situation.
Educational materials are available both from the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) and the CDC. There is a link directly to the DPH website on this page. The DPH website also contains links to the CDC’s website. SHS will work in cooperation with other campus offices to distribute educational material to the campus community, as well.
It is currently not the recommendation of the CDC, Connecticut DPH, or SHS that student or faculty travel to countries where transmission has been documented be prohibited. Ongoing monitoring of travel recommendations will be maintained and distributed as they change.