It’s hard to remember a day in recent months that the word Zika hasn’t come out of our mouths, come off our desks (a.k.a. a letter to an airline or hotel explaining why a woman can’t make her trip to the Dominican Republic), or caused a whole lot of fear for anyone who is pregnant or thinking about having a baby.
Like that insect buzzing in your ear, no matter how much you swat it away (no pun intended), it just keeps coming back. And while Zika might become “blood sisters” with everyone it lays its lips on, this virus has not made many friends. From reproductive-age women to OB/GYNs to pediatricians, Zika has become Public Enemy Number One. And while much of Zika is changing faster than Larry King changes wives, here’s what we know and don’t know today.
Here’s what we know about Zika:
- Zika said “Hello, world” in 1947. It made its first marks in monkeys who “swung out” in the Zika forest (hence how it got its name) in Uganda.
- Although Zika may have made its mark on the world in early 2016, it’s been a pesky pain since 1952. The first human infections were reported at this time, and since then, outbreaks have been identified in Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and tropical Africa.
- Fast forward nearly 65 years, and Brazil reported the first Zika virus infection. Shortly after this, the WHO (World Health Organization) went all WHOAH over Zika, declaring it a public health emergency (a.k.a. this is some serious stuff). And while the current epidemic started in Brazil, other countries and territories have reported active Zika virus transmission. As of September 2016, local transmission of Zika has been confirmed in Miami-Dade County, Florida marking the spread to the continental US.
- Although most of us know little more about a mosquito than when it bites, it itches, these blood suckers are not all created equal. Different species carry different viruses. When it comes to Zika, it’s the Aedes species that is making all of the noise. And these guys like to hang out and breed in water-holding containers.
- Aedes has an appetite—a big appetite. They are fairly aggressive eaters and will feed both indoors and outdoors.
- Humans and primates are prime meat when it comes to Zika. They serve as the reservoirs (i.e., holders) of the virus. And while the virus moves mosquito to man or woman, it can also go mosquito A to person A to mosquito B to person B. So even if mosquito B was buzzing around blissfully without Zika, if person A had Zika and was bitten by mosquito B, mosquito B would now have Zika. Therefore, whoever is mosquito B’s next meal will be infected with Zika. We know…pretty crazy…
- Most people who are bitten by Aedes and infected with Zika are none the wiser; they are completely asymptomatic. Those that do feel it feel the following: a fever, a rash, joint pain, muscle aches, headaches, and conjunctivitis. In most cases, the symptoms are mild and gone within a week.
- While most people feel little pain from their Zika infection, pregnant women, not so much. Medical evidence indicates that Zika is very likely to be a cause for microcephaly.
- Zika gets around—and not just via a mosquito. Zika can be transmitted to people through sexual contact, through a blood transfusion, or from mom-to-baby at birth.
- As of today, there is no vaccine or medication to treat Zika. Like most viruses, it just takes time to work its way out of your system.
Here’s what we don’t know about Zika:
- Where it will go next? (That is, what will that Zika map look like in a few months?)
- How long does the Zika virus persist in the semen of infected men? Although we are recommending men to abstain or use condoms for six months, is this too long?
- Can infected men who are asymptomatic spread Zika to their sexual partners?
- Do infected women have the ability to transmit Zika to their sexual partners just like men do?
- Once people are infected with Zika, are they protected for life (like chicken pox), or can you get Zika twice?
- Are pregnant women at higher risk for being infected with Zika than non-pregnant women?
- If a pregnant woman is infected with Zika, what is the chance that her baby will develop microcephaly?
- When will we discover a vaccine, AND who should get it?
Zika has made quite the buzz over the past several months. Its bite is big. From the news to the media to the medical journals, it’s all over the place. And while we know a lot more today than we did yesterday, we will almost certainly know more tomorrow than we did today.
Bottom line: the Zika recommendations are constantly changing. In the words of the NYPD, if we see something, we will say something. So keep checking the CDC, ACOG, ASRM and the Truly, MD, websites for updates. Until then, buy a lot of bug spray, stay away from Zika-infected areas, and stay in constant communication with your OB/GYN. This is one mosquito you don’t want to mess with.