The Latest on the Zika Virus

(Written by Dr. Michael Szabo, Medical Director, Ingle International)

 

The Zika virus is still a hot topic in infectious disease circles. Here are three recent developments in our understanding of this important virus.

  1. Zika causes microcephaly
    The CDC has recently reached the definitive conclusion that the Zika virus causes microcephaly. Its evidence has been published in The New England Journal of Medicine[1]. Until now, the Zika–microcephaly connection had merely been suspected, given the lack of data showing that Zika was the direct cause. That has now changed.
  1. Zika is now being linked to other problems in the offspring of affected pregnant mothers, including hearing and vision problems and cognitive deficits
    The data are still being investigated, and the association is not definitive at this point. This development is certainly worrying, since until now microcephaly was the only concern.
  1. Sexual transmission of the virus is now more of a concern than originally thought
    Experts initially thought that sexual transmission played a very minor role in spreading the virus. Not now. Transmission can be from male to male or from male to female. The female-to-male or female-to-female route, however, has not been demonstrated. Pregnant women must therefore be careful to prevent exposure, both by avoiding travel to affected areas and by avoiding contact with the semen of males who have potentially been exposed. The virus can live longer in semen than it can in blood—but for how long remains an open question. Also, we don’t know if men who were in a Zika-infected area and never developed symptoms have semen that is free of the virus.

Remember: many people with Zika have no symptoms at all. According to Dr. Bogoch, until we know more, men who have Zika symptoms while in an affected area should assume the virus will remain in their semen for up to six months after symptom onset. Likewise, if they did not have symptoms but were in a high-risk area, they should assume the virus is present in their semen up to eight weeks after returning home.

The mosquito route remains the most common mode of transmission, and protecting yourself from mosquito bites while in affected areas is the most effective means of prevention. Dr. Bogoch also emphasizes the importance of checking the CDC website as to receive up-to-date information on this growing health concern. The following webpage provides thorough guidelines on how you can protect yourself: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/pregnancy/protect-yourself.html

[1] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr1604338

 

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