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Zika Virus: Travel, Pregnancy, Prevention

What is Zika virus? 

Zika virus spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.  Zika can also be passed through sex from a person who has Zika to his or her sex partners, and it can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus.  People can protect themselves from mosquito bites and getting Zika through sex. 


Many people infected with Zika virus do not have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms.  The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).  Other symptoms include muscle pain and headache.  Symptoms can last for several days to a week.  People usually don’t get sick enough to go to a hospital.  For this reason many people may not realize that they have been infected.  If you have traveled to an area where Zika is prevalent and are experiencing symptoms, you should tell your doctor.  Students should let the Vassar College Health Service staff know if they have traveled or lived in an area where the Zika virus is prevalent, such as Miami, Florida, and areas outside the United States known to have the Zika virus.  It is especially important if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.  Your doctor can test you for the Zika virus. Do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs until you talk to your doctor.  You can take Tylenol to reduce fever.

There is no specific medicine to treat Zika.  The doctor will treat your symptoms.  It is important to rest and drink fluids. 

Is the Zika virus in the United States?

The Florida Department of Health has identified an area in one neighborhood in Miami, Florida (Wynwood), where Zika is being spread by mosquitos.  Pregnant women should not travel to this area. If you have lived or traveled to this area anytime after June 15, 2016, and have a pregnant sex partner, you should use condoms or other barriers to prevent infections every time you have sex, or refrain from sex during the pregnacy.  If you are pregnant or could be pregnant and have traveled to this area, you should let your doctor know.

Mosquito Survellience:

Aedes aegypti/albopictus-specific surveillance is being conducted in Dutchess County and surrounding counties such as Ulster, Sullivan, Orange, and Putnam counties, and none have been identified to date. 

Associated Conditions:

Zika infection during pregancy can cause fetuses to have a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly.  Infants infected with Zika virus before birth have also developed other problems such as defects of the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth.  There have also been increased reports of Guillian-Barre syndrome, an uncommon sickness of the nervous system, in areas affected by Zika.  All pregnant women in the United States should be assessed for possible Zika virus exposure during each prenatal visit.  Pregnant women who live in or frequently travel to this area should be tested in the first and second trimester of pregnancy.    

Couples Thinking about Getting Pregnant:

Women with Zika should wait at least 8 weeks and men with Zika should wait at least 6 months after symptoms began before trying to get pregnant.  Women and men who live in or frequently travel to infected areas should talk to their healthcare provider.  Women and men who have traveled to an infected area should wait at least 8 weeks before trying to get pregnant.

Prevention Tips:

  1. 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.  Tightly cover water storage containers so that mosquitos cannot get inside and lay eggs. For containers without lids, use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito. If you have a septic tank, repair cracks or gaps. Cover open vents or plumbing pipes. You can use wire mesh for this, too.
  2. Use Environmental Protective Agency registered insect repellents containing 25-30% DEET.   Always follow the product label instructions. Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old. Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.  Use mosquito netting in strollers , carriers, and cribs to cover babies that are younger than 2 months old.
  3. Cover your skin by wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants.  For extra protection, treat clothing with permethrin.
  4. Mosquito proof your home by using screens on windows and doors. Use air conditioning when available. 
  5. Once you are pregnant, use condoms the entire pregnancy.  Condoms must be used correctly from start to finish, every time you have sex. This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex.  If you think your male partner may have or had Zika, tell your health care provider if you had sex without a condom.
  6. IF you have Zika virus, strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the first week of illness to help prevent others from getting sick.