What You Need to Know About Zika Virus

 In Blogs

If you have watched the news recently, you have definitely heard about Zika virus.  Zika virus has actually been around since 1947, when it was discovered in the forests of Uganda.  The virus is common in Africa and Asia, but was not seen in the Western Hemisphere until May of 2015, when cases were reported in Brazil.   It is carried and spread by a certain type of mosquito.  The virus is spreading rapidly in the Western Hemisphere because we do not have any immunity to the virus.

The incubation period for the virus is 2-12 days after being bitten and symptoms usually appear 3-7 days post exposure.   Only 1 in 5 persons infected with Zika virus will become symptomatic.  The symptoms are usually mild and can include fever, joint pain, macropapular rash, myalgia, headache and conjunctivitis.  Symptoms usually only last a few days to a week and severe illness requiring hospitalization is rare.

There is no specific treatment recommended for Zika virus infection.  Supportive care including rest, fluids and analgesics/antipyretics is recommended.  It is recommended to avoid aspirin until Dengue infection can be ruled out.

There are tests for Zika virus, however are not widely available and are only accurate within the first week or so after infection.   After this time period, tests for Zika antibodies can be performed.  The virus is closely related to the viruses that cause Dengue and Yellow Fever, so it may cross-react with antibody tests for these viruses.  The virus does not appear to linger in the body and those exposed to the virus are immune.  Humans can transmit the virus to mosquitoes for up to 20 days after infection.

Evidence shows that Zika virus can be transmitted sexually through semen.  The virus persists longer in semen than it does in the blood, but the actual length of time that the virus remains in the semen is unknown.  At this time, there is no evidence that women can transmit the Zika virus to men.

The link between Zika virus and microcephaly has not yet been proven, but a strong correlation has been observed.   Zika virus has also been linked to causing Guillain-Barre syndrome.

There currently is no vaccine for Zika virus, but development is underway.   It is predicted that a vaccine may be developed within 2 years, however it may take 10 -12 years before the vaccine would be approved and available for use in the general public.

References: 1. McNeil, Donald, St. Louis, Catherine, St. Fleur, Nicholas.  (2016, Feb 3).  Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika Virus.  New York Times.  Retrieved from www.newyorktimes.com.  Accessed 2/12/2016. 2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Feb. 12, 2016) Zika Virus.  Retrieved from www.cdc.gov.  Accessed Feb 12, 2016.    

This article was originally published in our monthly issue of From the Front Lines – a monthly publication that shares best practices and medication-related challenges faced by “front line” staff in long-term care and post-acute (LTCPAC) facilities.

>>> From the Front Lines – February 2016 <<<