The Zika virus: What we know and what we don’t
We know that…
- Zika infection during pregnancy can be passed to your baby. It can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other brain problems. Also, Zika may be linked to miscarriage and stillbirth, hearing and vision problems, and joint issues.
- the Zika virus is spread mostly through the bite of an infected mosquito, but it also can be spread by having sex with someone who is infected, and possibly through blood transfusions. Zika can be spread through laboratory exposure in a health care setting, too.
- the mosquitoes that live in many parts of the U.S. are capable of spreading the virus if they become infected. They become infected by biting someone who has the virus. At this time, in the continental United States, mosquitoes are spreading the virus in only one area of Florida.
- infected mosquitoes spread the virus by biting people. Roughly 4 out of 5 people who get the Zika virus don’t have any signs or symptoms and aren’t aware that they have the virus.
- by applying bug spray/lotion for 3 weeks after you return from a Zika-affected area, or if you were diagnosed with Zika, you will help prevent the spread of Zika to others.
We don’t know…
- how often Zika causes microcephaly or birth defects when a baby is exposed to the virus in the womb.
- if or when mosquitoes in other areas of the U.S. may become infected with Zika and consequently start spreading the virus.
- when a vaccine will be available.
Here’s what you can do
The March of Dimes #ZAPzika campaign provides essential information on Zika protection that everyone should follow and share:
- Use spray, keep mosquitoes away: make sure it’s EPA registered, and contains at least one of the following ingredients: DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or IR3535, which are safe to use during pregnancy. Don’t use products that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years. When applying, always follow the product label directions; do not put bug spray/lotion under your clothes, and put sunscreen on first (then bug spray/lotion over sunscreen). Find a repellant that is right for you.
- Say you will, embrace the chill: use air conditioning and window screens if possible. Repair holes on screens.
- If it’s wet, it’s a threat: remove still water. Mosquitoes can breed in tiny amounts of water. To prevent water from pooling and becoming mosquito breeding grounds, the CDC says “Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots, or trash containers.”
- Get protected, not infected: wear clothes to prevent bites, such as long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, socks, shoes, and a hat. If you or your partner may be infected with Zika, use a barrier method (like a condom) every time you have sex or don’t have sex at all.
- If you suspect, then connect: call your health care provider if you are at risk of infection, or if you think you may have the Zika virus.
If you are thinking about getting pregnant, CDC guidelines suggest waiting at least 6 months from the first sign or symptom if a male partner was diagnosed with the virus, and waiting at least 8 weeks from the first sign or symptom if a woman tested positive for Zika.
If you or your partner may have Zika but neither of you have signs or symptoms and neither of you has been tested, wait at least 8 weeks from when you think you may have been exposed to Zika before trying to get pregnant. Keep in mind that research is ongoing to confirm these waiting times.