The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus an international emergency on Feb. 1, 2016.

Sentara addresses Zika virus concerns

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The emergence of the mosquito-borne Zika virus is prevalant in news coverage worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus an international emergency on Feb. 1, 2016.

Media coverage about potential birth defects in pregnant women has raised anxiety about the virus. We would like to take the opportunity to put this issue in perspective and present known facts.

  • Most people who contract Zika virus have no symptoms. The few who do get sick may experience a fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes. There is no vaccine for Zika and no antiviral medication, so treatment is similar to the flu (rest, fluids and Tylenol for inflammation).
  • The greatest concern around Zika virus is its potential to cause birth defects in pregnant women. While the connection is not yet confirmed, the potential is causing concern in North America.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus spread to people through mosquito bites. These mosquitos are found throughout much of the Americas, including the United States. Local transmission of Zika virus has not been documented in the United States to date, but Zika virus infections have been reported in travelers returning to the United States, including Virginia. While it is not currently mosquito season in Virginia, there is potential in the future for Virginia’s mosquitoes to acquire Zika virus from an infected traveler and cause local transmission.

Approximately 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill. The time period from becoming infected to showing symptoms is not known, though it is likely to be several days to a week. Zika is usually a mild illness with symptoms lasting from a few days to a week.

Pregnant women can be infected with Zika virus during any trimester and maternal-fetal transmission of the virus has been documented throughout pregnancy. Zika virus infections have been confirmed in infants with microcephaly, though it is not known how many of these microcephaly cases are associated with the virus.

If you believe that you may be infected with Zika virus or have additional questions, please contact your doctor.

Sentara is working with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to continue monitoring Zika virus in our region. Sentara has also devised a series of travel-related questions for patients presenting with symptoms, including whether they have traveled to South America and when. If they meet those criteria, their cases may be escalated to the VDH.