Thursday, April 7 is recognized as World Health Day by the World Health Organization (WHO). Although the topic I have chosen to write about is not the official focus of this year’s World Health Day, it is definitely a topic that has received attention in the news. That topic is Zika.
We haven’t talked about Zika at HealthComU yet. So let’s start with a brief recap:
- In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil.
- On Feb 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).
- The New York Times reported that mounting evidence pointed to a possible connection between Zika and birth defects (most notably, microcephaly). Furthermore, agencies have reported that as many as 4 million people could be infected with the disease by the end of the year. The claims led to recommendations that pregnant women should not to travel to countries where Zika had been reported.
- In addition to recommendations that pregnant women not travel to affected areas, the CDC outlined recommendations for sexual intercourse for men and women in relationships where the woman is pregnant or where pregnancy is being discussed because of evidence suggesting that Zika can remain in semen for as long as two months and can be sexually transmitted. Those guidelines include:
- Women with confirmed cases of the Zika virus or who have had symptoms of the virus should wait at least eight weeks after the start of their symptoms before trying to get pregnant.
- Men with confirmed cases of the virus or who have had symptoms of the virus are advised to wait at least six months after their symptoms begin before having unprotected sex.
The cause for concern is only heightened as the 2016 Summer Olympics are to be held in Rio De Janerio, Brazil in August and unlikely to subside any time soon. However, Michael Phelps, 18-time Olympic medalist seems to be unfazed, and it’s been reported that his fiancée and newborn son (due mid-May) will be in attendance for the games.
Meanwhile, those of us not traveling to the Olympics, or with any international travel plans in our near future, might benefit from the following information:
- Zika is not spread through coughing. As of right now the only known means of transmission are sexually (via semen) or being bitten by an infected mosquito.
- As of now, there are no locally acquired cases of Zika in the United States.
- Although many individuals with Zika don’t know they have it, only 20 percent of those who are infected actually become ill. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and redness in the eyes. Symptoms are usually mild and last for a few days to a week.
- A definitive link between Zika and microcephaly will take time to confirm. As a comparison, it took experts a decade to confirm the connection between rubella and birth defects.
As with many advisories, even medical professionals can’t give a 100 percent certain answer about international travel. If you are considering traveling to a country where Zika is a known risk, educate yourself; consult with an infectious disease expert. Use this information to arm yourself with knowledge to make the best possible choice for you.