What you want to know about Zika

Zika virus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV) The Zika virus has been making headlines for months. Now that mosquito season is here in the United States, health officials are stepping up plans to help stop its spread.

According to the Associated Press, the Zika virus causes only a mild and brief illness, at worst, in most people. But it can cause fetal deaths and severe birth defects in the children of women infected during pregnancy.

A lot of people have questions about Zika and what you can do in West Michigan. We took some of those questions to Dr. Vivian Romero, Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Spectrum Health Medical Group in Grand Rapids.

What exactly is the Zika virus and what can it do?

Zika virus disease (Zika) is a disease caused by the Zika virus, which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

For more information on the Zika virus, please visit cdc.gov/zika/about/index.html.

Is it here in Michigan?


What are the chances of catching this virus?

We don’t know what are the chances of catching the virus, but the questions I would ask you as a healthcare provider are:

  • Were you in an areas with active mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus?
  • Did you have any symptoms or signs of being infected with Zika virus?

How is testing done to determine if Zika is present?

Tests done in blood (Serum) or Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) are preferred. Also it can be done in amniotic fluid, urine, tissue and other specimens. There are specific instructions about how to collect. Contact MDHHS at (517) 335-8165 for instructions on specimen collection and handling. The test is covered by the state or the CDC.

The test is considered highly specific, but still there is risk of having a positive result when in fact the person does not have an infection with Zika virus but has an infection with closely related virus (for example, dengue virus).

If you’re a pregnant woman, what preventive measures can you take?

Since there is no vaccine available to prevent Zika virus disease, we recommend avoiding traveling to areas with active mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus.

For specific information of areas affected by Zika virus, please visit cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html.

If you can’t avoid traveling to an area where Zika virus is present, it is important to take appropriate steps to avoid mosquito bites. This information is also available at cdc.gov/zika/prevention/index.html.

We have two daughters pregnant in Grand Rapids. Should they worry? Should they use special precautions?

Only if they travel to an area or their male partner travels to an area affected with active mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus.

Is there any danger general public that is not pregnant?

Zika virus can affect anyone. If a man is infected, he can spread the virus to his sex partners. A man may be infected and be able to spread the virus before any symptoms of infection appear.

Also, it is important to know that the virus is present in semen longer than in blood. The risk of a man transmitting Zika virus to a woman through sex after six months from the time his symptoms first appeared is believed to be small, although the level of risk will not be clear until studies currently underway are completed.

There are no reports of infants getting Zika virus through breastfeeding.

What repellent is safest, and most effective to use against mosquito bites?

The CDC recommends the use of products containing active ingredients that have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use as repellents applied to skin and clothing.

Of the products registered with the EPA, those containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection. EPA registration means that EPA does not expect the product to cause adverse effects to human health or the environment when used according to the label.

Insect repellents can be used by pregnant or nursing women. EPA does not recommend any additional precautions for repellent use by pregnant or nursing women.

Also, it is important to know that it is not recommended to use a single product that combines insect repellent containing DEET and sunscreen. Repellent usually does not need to be reapplied as often as sunscreen.

I care for an elderly woman who is quite concerned about West Nile and Zika. What can I do to reassure her? What precautions does she need to take?

There are no documented risks for the elderly reported yet.

Dr. Vivian Romero
Dr. Vivian Romero

Vivian Carolina Romero, MD, is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. After earning her medical degree from University of Zulia in Maracaibo, Venezuela, Dr. Romero completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Wayne State University in Detroit and her fellowship in Maternal and Fetal Medicine at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. Dr. Romero is a member of the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Her special interests include high risk pregnancies, multiple gestation, prenatal diagnosis and fetal therapy, fetal growth disorders, and preconception counseling. She also maintains an ongoing interest in the education of medical students and residents. Dr. Romero is fluent in Spanish.

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