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Time again for another “epidemic scare.” Within the last year, we have had a few outbreaks of diseases that are not very common, including measles and mumps. Now the Zika virus, something that the majority of us have never heard of before, is coming. As with any issue, understanding the facts is key to allaying fears and panic that tend to be brought on by the widespread media reports. So, without further ado, here is an update on what we currently know about the Zika virus.

The Zika virus is a mosquito-born virus. What this means is that the only way to get infected is by getting bit by an infected mosquito. (The exception to this is that an infected woman who is pregnant can pass it to her unborn child.) At this time, there is no evidence that it is “contagious” – you cannot “catch it by being around” an infected person. (Although there was one reported case of sexual transmission in the news recently, we do not have any further information about this at this time.) The incubation period (time from exposure to when you get sick) appears to be about 2-7 days. About 80% of people that get infected with this virus will get an asymptomatic infection, or in other words, they will not get sick. For the approximately 20% of infected people that do get sick, a mild, self-limited illness is usually the result (resolves without severe symptoms or complications). The most common symptoms include fever, joint pain, rash, conjunctivitis (pink eye), and muscle pain. Although severe illness with complications including death is possible, this is extremely rare.

At this time, there is no specific treatment for the virus other than supportive care including rest, fluids, acetaminophen if needed for fever or discomfort, etc. and TLC. If Zika virus infection is suspected, the CDC does not currently recommend the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, etc. In addition, as regarding all other illnesses with children, the use of aspirin is not recommended.

The main concern right now with Zika virus infection, is its apparent effect on the unborn child of an infected pregnant woman. There appears to be a link with maternal infection and microcephaly (abnormally small head) and intracranial calcifications (abnormal calcium deposits in the brain) in the infant. This can lead to a variety of problems in a baby, including significant developmental issues.

Right now there is no routine commercial testing available for the virus. All testing is done via the CDC (via the Illinois Department of Public Health). If your doctor feels you or your child needs testing, that will be discussed on an individual basis.

In summary, the Zika virus, although scary, will usually not cause any symptoms in the majority of infected people. For those who do get sick, they will usually have a mild illness. There is no current therapy specific for this infection, other than supportive care. The group of people most at risk for complications are pregnant women as there appears to be a risk for significant problems in their unborn children.

We hope this helps clarify what Zika virus is. For further information, please go to the following
CDC website:  http://www.cdc.gov/zika/disease-qa.html

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