Just as the Ebola virus is declared under control, another global threat emerges in the form of the Zika virus. So, what is this virus and what threat does it pose to your healthcare facility? The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Outbreaks of the Zika virus have occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Central and South America. To date there have been no locally transmitted cases in the continental United States, but there have been reported cases in people returning from travel to endemic areas. The number of Zika cases in the United States will most likely rise as people visit or return from these endemic areas; the rate could increase rapidly as athletes and spectators travel to Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympic games.
Illness from the virus is typically mild and requires no treatment. In fact, about 80% of people infected by the Zika virus are asymptomatic. When the virus does cause illness, common signs and symptoms include:
So if the illness is mild, why the cause for alarm? Despite the seemingly mildness of the illness, the infection can have dire consequences. Zika virus infection may be associated with Guillian-Barré syndrome, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The syndrome commonly begins with weakness or tingling sensations in the lower extremities that progress to symmetrical weakness and tingling sensations of the body and upper extremities, which progresses to paralysis. The symptoms can progress over hours, days, or weeks; severity peaks by the third week of illness. Most people recover from the illness, but recovery times vary from a few weeks to a few years.
Moreover, recent evidence shows a possible link between maternal Zika virus infection and fetal complications, such as microcephaly. Microcephaly is a neurologic condition, in which the infant’s brain hasn’t properly grown during pregnancy or stopped growing after birth, resulting in a smaller head size. Infants born with microcephaly can have a variety of health problems ranging from mild to severe; for some the condition can be life-threatening. Microcephaly has been linked to the following health issues, which are typically life-long.
Currently there’s no vaccine or medication to prevent or treat Zika virus infection; so existing strategies focus on prevention. Although the virus doesn’t pose an infection control risk to your facility, staff should be prepared to educate patients about measures to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.
Although Zika is typically caused by the bite of an infected mosquito, there have been cases of sexual transmission, which is especially worrisome during pregnancy. Women who are trying to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider to discuss the risk of Zika virus infection, before they or their partner travel to an affected area.
Pregnant women should notify their healthcare provider if they may have been exposed to the virus. Men who travel or reside in an area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing, who have a pregnant partner should refrain from sexual activity or use a condom during sex for the duration of pregnancy.
Pregnant women should be encouraged to avoid travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. If travel can’t be avoided, they should consult with their healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during travel.
Travelers going to countries with Zika virus infection should take the following measures to prevent mosquito bites.
As you can see, this seemingly minor viral illness can have extremely serious consequences. What kinds of resources and strategies does your facility have in place to combat contagious viral infections such as Zika and Ebola? Do you think clinicians are adequately prepared to handle a potential Zika outbreak here in the U.S.?
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