A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

4 things to know about Zika virus

World map and suitcase illustration - Zika virusEditor’s note: This is what we know as of May 19, 2016. We will provide updated information as it is discovered.

Keep updated with Zika cases

Relatively unknown until recently, Zika virus has been making headlines following outbreaks in the Americas, Pacific Islands and Africa.

It has been linked to serious illness and birth defects.

The virus has been detected in one Wisconsin resident who recently traveled to Honduras where mosquitoes that carry Zika are present. International travelers should be aware of the illness and watch for more information about Zika, said Dr. Matthew Hall, a Marshfield Clinic infectious disease specialist.

Here’s what you need to know about Zika virus.

1. Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness

Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes and is related to West Nile virus, yellow fever and dengue.

Rarely, the virus is passed from mother to child and between sexual partners. Dallas County Health and Human Services on Tuesday reported the first U.S. case of sexually-transmitted Zika virus.

Symptoms of Zika virus infection include fever, rash, joint pain, muscle aches, headache and red eyes. Symptoms, if they occur at all, usually are mild and last a few days to a week.

There is no vaccine for the virus and no cure.

2. It’s not dangerous for most people, but…

“Zika virus wasn’t widely reported until about a year and a half ago because 80 percent of people infected have mild or no symptoms,” Hall said.

The virus recently gained attention when it was linked to two rare but severe conditions – Guillain-Barre syndrome and microcephaly.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system (the part of the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord), resulting in weakness or paralysis to the legs and arms.

Microcephaly is a condition present at birth in which the baby’s head is smaller than normal. Most babies with microcephaly also have smaller-than-normal brains and developmental problems.

Experts strongly suspect Zika virus causes microcephaly, but the connection hasn’t been scientifically proven, according to the World Health Organization.

3. Mosquitoes that transmit Zika aren’t present in Wisconsin

The species of mosquito that transmits the virus hasn’t been found in the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, but the Zika virus infection has been found in one Wisconsin traveler.

If Zika virus spreads similarly to West Nile virus, it won’t affect a lot of people in Wisconsin, Hall said. The virus might be more of a concern to people who live in southern states.

4. Take travel precautions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 2 alert for travelers to areas with Zika outbreaks advising them to practice enhanced precautions. Pregnant women are asked to consider postponing travel to these areas.

Hall and the CDC recommend the following to protect travelers from mosquitoes:

  • Insect repellant with DEET
  • Clothing and gear pre-treated with the pesticide permethrin
  • Long sleeves and long pants
  • Mosquito netting
  • Sleeping in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms

These precautions are recommended any time you travel to an area known to have mosquito-borne illness. A pre-travel health screening is recommended for most overseas trips.

“People should continue to look for more information,” Hall said. “Travel warnings and what we know about the virus will change in the weeks and months to come.”

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