I was honored to participate in a briefing this week on the latest Zika virus updates presented by the Surgeon General of the United States and the leading authority on Zika at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week.
Given that the big news is that Zika virus is now being transmitted by mosquitoes in the United States, I thought it would be helpful to pass along their insights.
The two key updates from this week have to do with the risk of getting infected with Zika here in the US, without any traveling, and the length of time an infected person can be contagious by sexual contact.
Getting Infected in the United States
Until very recently, all reports of Americans infected with Zika virus were about catching it from mosquitoes outside of our country.
This is no longer true. Proven instances of getting infected right here in the US are now established. At this time, the Surgeon General told us the only mosquitoes in the US known to transmit the Zika virus are in a small area north of Miami, Florida. It is anticipated that there may be other areas with these mosquitoes, but we are not aware of any yet.
How Long is an Infected Person Contagious?
It is still very true that if a person has Zika virus infection, they are not contagious except by sexual contact. It is not contagious by air, touch, sneeze, cough, only by sex.
The Surgeon General told us that the time a person can transmit the Zika virus by sex varies by gender. Men are contagious longer than women.
For women, once infected with the Zika virus, they are contagious for 8 weeks whether they have symptoms or not.
For men, once infected with with the Zika virus, they are contagious for 8 weeks if they have no symptoms, and 6 months if they do have symptoms.
What to Do?
The main danger from Zika infections is the danger of brain damage to a child developing during pregnancy. The Surgeon General and the NIH and the CDC all recommend that any woman who is pregnant or could become pregnant should be very careful to avoid Zika infection.
This means avoiding travel to areas where mosquitoes carry the Zika virus, now this includes the area north of Miami.
But it also means avoiding unprotected sexual contact with any man known to have Zika infection, for 8 weeks if he has had no symptoms, for 6 months if he has had Zika symptoms.
The Surgeon General stated that if a male infected partner uses condoms then sexual contact is safe.
1. In adults, the vast majority of infected people either don’t get sick at all or have mild symptoms.
2. Less commonly, adults can get significant pain in muscles and joints.
3. Adults with the infection can have the neurologic complication of Guillan-Barre syndrome which is typically transient. Now some have died from the infection.
4. The most disturbing and common danger from the Zika virus is its ability to infect babies of pregnant women and that it is now known to cause damage to brain development at any time during pregnancy.
5. Adults and children need to weigh the risk of serious infection if they plan to travel to tropical Americas, Samoa, and Cape Verde Islands. The risk of getting infected is real. There are neurologic complications and now even death reported.
6. Pregnant women should know that traveling to Miami, tropical Americas, Samoa, and Cape Verde Islands could be catastrophic for their developing baby.
7. If a woman who even may become pregnant has a partner who has traveled to Miami,tropical Americas, Samoa, or Cape Verde Islands, she should abstain from unprotectedsexual contact as detailed above.
To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin