The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that is transmitted by the bites of the Aedes aegyptimosquito or Asian Tiger mosquito. Both of these mosquitos are aggressive and can bite several humans for one meal. We have known about this virus for over 60 years. It was first identified in Nigeria and Uganda in the early 1950s.
Zika virus is a flavivirus, a virus that is a member of the same disease family as deadly yellow fever virus, West Nile virus, chikungunya virus and dengue fever virus.
Recently, we are noting that there is a strong connection between the virus and mothers who are pregnant and infected having babies with microcephaly. Microcephaly is a neurological condition that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads.
In general, life expectancy for individuals with microcephaly is decreased, and the long-term outlook for normal brain function is below poor. Babies with microcephaly commonly have remarkable neurological defects with seizures. They also have impaired mental functioning and develop problems with motor skills later in life.
Brazil is one of the most concerning epidemic areas. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the Brazilian health authorities reported more than 3,500 documented microcephaly cases between October 2015 and January 2016. In the worst-affected region of Brazil, approximately one percent of newborns are suspected of being microcephalic.
The exact connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly is poorly understood, and more research is aggressively and currently underway. Nevertheless, the strong connection between the two is of great concern.
Currently, there is no treatment or vaccine available for the Zika virus.
Symptoms of the Zika virus
- joint pain
- red eyes (conjunctivitis)
Eighty percent of the infected people show no symptoms. People become carriers during the time they have symptoms.
The Zika virus is transmitted when an Aedes aegyptimosquito or Asian Tiger mosquito bites a person with an active infection, and then the virus spreads as the infected mosquito bites other people.
Currently, there is concern that the virus can also be spread by blood-to-blood contact, kissing (perhaps), and sex (in semen). The spread can occur when people are infected and having symptoms. Although transmission in salvia is unlikely, there have been documented cases of transmission in semen. It is unlikely, too, that the virus is spread by urine and through the air.
Countries with locally transmitted cases of Zika virus
Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Venezuela
How to prevent getting the Zika virus
- Avoid travel to areas with an active infestation, especially if you are pregnant.
- Use an EPA-approved repellent over sunscreen.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
- Sleep in air-conditioned, screened rooms.
- Minimize contact with anyone who has traveled to these areas and are having cold or flu-like symptoms.
If you have concerns about getting the virus, or if you are pregnant and think you have been exposed to the Zika virus, please consult with your doctor.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations, and president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians.