Talk of the Zika virus is everywhere these days, and it has many people understandably worried. On Tuesday, UK HealthCare experts held a news conference to answer questions about Zika. The bottom line? If you’re here in Kentucky and aren’t planning to travel this summer, your risk of catching Zika is very low. But there are things you can do to be prepared in case that risk increases this summer.
“At the present time, the risk for infection is low for Kentuckians not traveling to areas with active Zika,” said Dr. Phillip Chang, UK HealthCare chief medical officer. “However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to provide updates and if locally transmitted cases are found in the U.S., the risk could increase.”
What is Zika virus?
The Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites or through sexual contact with an infected person. Currently, virus transmission is happening in many Caribbean and Central and South American countries. Although many people who become infected have mild or no symptoms, pregnant women who contract the disease are at high risk for complications. Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a potentially fatal neurological disorder characterized by an abnormally small head.
Currently, the only cases in the U.S. have been travel-associated. But concern is growing about the possibility of travelers spreading it to mosquitoes in the U.S., which can then infect people who have not traveled to countries with the active virus. The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the main carrier of the virus, can be found in the U.S. during the summer months, including Kentucky. This means that the Zika virus in Kentucky could be a real possibility.
“Currently, there is no anti-viral treatment and no vaccine for the Zika virus, so we are focusing on prevention and risk reduction and, if necessary, proper screening for our patients if Zika becomes a concern in the region,” said Dr. Derek Forster, UK HealthCare medical director for infection prevention and control.
Pregnant women and Zika
Since February, UK HealthCare’s obstetrics and gynecology clinics have been educating patients on the risks of Zika, particularly for pregnant patients or pregnant patients with partners who travel to these areas, said Dr. Wendy Hansen,chair of UK Obstetrics and Gynecology.
“We have been telling pregnant patients to postpone travel to areas with outbreaks of Zika virus, which currently is nearly all of Central America and much of the Caribbean and South America,” Hansen said. “We also are counseling and advising patients on what to do if they have partners that plan to or have traveled to these areas.”
According to current CDC guidelines, the following special precautions are recommended for pregnant women:
- Pregnant women should not travel to any area with Zika.
- If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your doctor or other health care provider first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.
- Until more is known, pregnant women with male sex partners who have lived in or traveled to an area with Zika virus should either use a condom every time they have sex or abstain from sex throughout the pregnancy.
Precautions for everyone
While the Zika virus is most dangerous for pregnant women who risk complications, everyone is urged to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites during the summer months to prevent possible spread of the disease.
- Wearing protective clothes, including long-sleeved shirts and long pants. For extra protection, treat clothing with permethrin, a chemical that repels insects and kills mosquitoes and ticks when sprayed on clothing, tents and other gear.
- Using an EPA-registered insect repellent every day containing one or more of the following active ingredients: DEET, PICARIDIN or IR3535.
- Using screens on windows and doors, and using air conditioning when available.
- Keeping mosquitoes from laying eggs in and near standing water near your home.
“Although these precautions are especially important for pregnant women and women of childbearing age who want to become pregnant, we want everyone to educate themselves on how to protect their family members and friends,” Hansen said.
Watch UK HealthCare experts discuss Zika virus below.
- The CDC recommends that testing for the Zika virus be done for pregnant women who have recently traveled somewhere with active Zika or anyone who has traveled and has symptoms.
- For the most up-to-date information, visit the CDC’s website.