With 234 women in the United States now pregnant with the Zika virus and more infections expected this summer, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a draft plan for responding to the virus.
The virus, which has no known cure, can be passed from pregnant mothers to their unborn children, causing severe brain defects such as microcephaly.
The CDC says it will begin reporting the number of infants born with defects and the number of pregnancy losses with defects. So far, three children have been born with defects and there have been three pregnancy losses with birth defects.
Health officials’ response
Infected mosquitos transmit the virus to people through a bite. But the virus also can be passed through sexual contact. In Brazil, where the first major outbreak occurred, investigators are examining reports of Zika being spread through transfusions of infected blood. No cases of infection by transfusion have yet been reported in the U.S.
The CDC has set up an emergency operations center, where it is monitoring the disease and coordinating responses to infections. It’s also:
- Overseeing the development of lab tests to diagnose Zika
- Studying the persistence of the virus in semen and urine among males
- Providing guidance to travelers
- Helping areas where outbreaks have occurred, including Brazil, Colombia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Panama and American Samoa
In February, President Barack Obama requested $1.8 billion in emergency funds for various agencies to accelerate research into a vaccine and to educate at-risk populations. That request has not yet been approved by Congress, but the administration has shifted some funds devoted to battling Ebola to the fight against Zika.
Why Zika is dangerous
Zika doesn’t necessarily cause symptoms, which means many people don’t know they have the disease. When symptoms do occur, they can include fever, a rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), headache and muscle pain. The illness is mild and most people don’t get sick enough to seek treatment.
Health officials recommend that people treat symptoms by:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Drinking fluids to prevent dehydration
- Taking medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever or pain
Health officials say those who are infected should avoid aspirin until dengue fever can be ruled out, to avoid the risk of bleeding.
Most important, they say, is to avoid further mosquito bites for the first week of infection, so mosquitoes don’t spread the disease further.
So far, there have been 756 reported cases of Zika in the U.S. Most of the infections occurred during travel. This CDC map breaks the cases down by state.
What pregnant women need to do
Zika is especially worrisome for pregnant woman due to the risks to their unborn children. The CDC notes that its count of 234 pregnant women with Zika in the U.S. is fluid and could be higher. The agency advises pregnant women to:
- Avoid travel to areas with Zika. For a list and maps of areas where Zika is being spread, see this CDC page.
- Try to prevent mosquito bites by wearing long sleeves and long pants, staying in protected areas indoors and using EPA-registered insect repellents. You can find a list here.
- Take steps to prevent getting Zika through sex by knowing their partner’s travel history and by using condoms.
- Visit a health care provider if they have traveled to areas with Zika, even if they don’t feel sick, and to visit a provider if they show symptoms.
To learn more about the Zika virus, including the CDC’s response plan, visit the agency’s Zika’s page.
If you’re pregnant and have traveled to an area where the Zika virus is being actively transmitted, visit your health care provider. If you don’t have a provider, you can find a Providence provider here.