Affinity Health Plan

  • Health Awareness Series: ZIKA VIRUS

    March 17, 2016

    Take Charge of Your Health!

    What is Zika?

    Zika is a disease caused by the Zika virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.

    Why the concern?

    Since May 2015, there has been an increase in an uncommon birth defect known as microcephaly (babies born with small heads with associated brain defects) linked to outbreaks of the Zika Virus. In response to this concern, The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) travel advisory. WHO recommends that pregnant women, women considering getting pregnant and the partners of these women strongly consider not traveling to areas where the Zika virus normally occurs or where there have been recent outbreaks.

    The other disorder that has been linked to Zika in some areas is Guillain-Barré syndrome, a type of paralysis. Most people recover the ability to walk but some do not.

    How do I know if I have the Zika Virus?

    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. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

    Zika virus is carried in the same tropical areas and by the same mosquitoes that carry some other more familiar and make you sicker diseases that occur in tropical areas: Yellow fever, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya virus infection. These mosquitoes typically lay eggs in and near standing water in things like buckets, bowls, flower pots and even in potholes.

    Where is the Zika Virus Transmitted?
    • Zika outbreaks have occurred for many years in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Usually, they cause only mild disease and most people don’t even know they have had the infection. In May 2015, Zika virus infections started to occur in Brazil. Since then, the virus has quickly spread from Brazil north through South America to Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and America Samoa.
    • In the United States (US) there have been NO local mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases reported as of March 1, 2016, but there have been travel-associated cases, see map.
      • All the travel-associated cases reported throughout the US have thus far been linked to people who have traveled to the countries where Zika outbreaks are occurring, become infected themselves with the virus, and bring it back home to the US, and spread it to the people they have come into contact with.
      • Because the usual symptoms of Zika are so mild, 80% of cases will not be diagnosed.
      • These imported cases could result in local spread of the virus in the United States.
        • Zika virus can be spread by a man to his sex partners.
        • The virus is present in semen longer than in blood.
        • If you have Zika, try to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes.
    What can you do to protect yourself and your pregnant family member?
    • Avoid travel to areas with Zika and Zika outbreaks
    • If you must travel to these areas, avoid mosquito bites:
      • stay in air conditioning
      • wear clothing to protect you from mosquito bites
      • spray your clothing with insecticide (insect repellent)
      • avoid the outdoors during daytime hours (that is when the mosquitoes that carry Zika are more likely to bite)
      • remove all containers that can collect water where mosquitoes can breed
    • Specific areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission can be difficult to determine and are likely to change over time. If traveling, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health site for the most updated travel information.

    Anyone who lives in or travels to an area where Zika virus is found ( and has not already been infected with Zika virus can get it from mosquito bites. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

    A word from Dr. Sharon Deans, Chief Medical Officer at Affinity Health Plan:

    Protect yourself and your community: try to avoid travel to Zika infected areas, guard yourself from mosquito bites, practice safe sex, especially if you have traveled to a Zika infected area and may be carrying the virus.

    To learn more:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

    World Health Organization (WHO)

    NYC Health

    Mosquito Bite Prevention for Travelers

    Mosquito Bite Prevention for the United States

    Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and NYC Health

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