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The Zika Virus: Quick Background

Tuesday, May 15, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kanaka Sathasivan
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By Melissa Parmer, RN, CCM, MBA

Woman spraying herself with bug spray outdoorsSwimming and barbeque season is gearing up, meaning many will be enjoying more time in the great outdoors. While a great way to spend quality time with friends and family, time outside as the weather warms up comes with much needed health reminders. In addition to sun safety, mosquitos and protection against the Zika virus have become part of the summer prep routine.

Some quick facts on Zika:

  • The current outbreak started in 2016.
  • Traveling to certain areas raises your risk of getting the virus.
  • Insect repellent is one protective step you can take.


The 2016 Olympics coincided with a Zika virus outbreak in Brazil, garnering renewed attention on the virus as the host country grappled with both preparing for the Olympics and controlling the outbreak. First isolated in 1947 in a Ugandan monkey, very few studies were conducted until the 2016 outbreak.

Two years later, patients still remain concerned about contact and infection. Education about risk factors, prevention, and symptoms can arm both patients and healthcare providers to stop further spread. Nurses in particular can help protect people through education, leadership, research, health prevention and health promotion.

People who have traveled to certain areas especially in Central and South America, as well as Central Africa are at higher risk for infection. Patients can learn more about their risk using a CDC risk tool and should discuss their concerns, as well as risk factors, with their healthcare providers.  As of May 4, the Texas Department of State Health Services has received a total of three reported cases for 2018, each case travel-related.

Infection and Transmission

Aedes Aegypti by James Gathany (PHIL, CDC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsZika is primarily spread to humans by bites from an infected Aedes species mosquito.

  • Bites can occur during both day and night, indoors and outdoors, while traveling or at home.
  • Infants, children and adults may become infected with Zika from mosquito bite.
  • The Zika virus may also spread through other means.

Prevention includes avoiding high-risk areas and the use of insect repellent. Patients should educate themselves about mosquitos and the differences between the bites from different mosquitos. The CDC provides information to help patients protect themselves and others.

If infected, a patient may only have mild symptoms or no symptoms. Fever, rash, headache, joint pain, conjunctivitis and muscle pain are most common and usually last for a few days to a week.

Zika is diagnosed with a healthcare assessment including questions about recent travel. A blood or urine test can confirm Zika infection. There is no specific vaccine or treatment other than symptom management and monitoring.

A pregnant patient with Zika can transmit the virus to the fetus during gestation, also known as congenital transmission. Transmission at or around the time of birth perinatal transmission is also possible. Zika transmission via breastmilk from an infected mother has been observed, though no babies have been seen to have health problems as a result. While encouraging, it is important to note the impact Zika virus can have on infants.

Other than through mosquito bites and pregnancy, the virus can spread through sexual contact even if an infected person is asymptomatic. The time frame for sexual transmission can vary based on gender. The CDC has suggestions for preventing the spread of Zika through sexual contact.

Lastly, the Zika virus can be transmitted through blood products. Though there have not been any confirmed cases of transfusion-related spread in the United States, cases of Zika transmission through platelet transfusions have been documented in Brazil.

Blood collected for donation is screened for the presence of Zika as of 2016, with donations testing positive removed. As part of a public health initiative, the CDC has developed an investigational tool kit for studying and tracking potential transfusion-transmitted infections.

Members, log in for more specific information on how nurses can prevent the spread of Zika, treat patients at risk of transmission and stay up to date with the latest data and research. 

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