Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

Over the past year, news reports have called attention to the growing global health concern caused by the Zika virus. In 2015, the virus appeared in Brazil and has rapidly spread through much of Central and South America. The mosquito-borne virus was first discovered in 1947, in the Zika Forest of Uganda. “For most people, Zika disease is not a serious problem,” says Dr. Lorraine Nardi, of Premier’s Internal Medicine Division. You can have a fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes), which can last for up to a week, but there are no long term effects.

However, that’s not the case for women who are or may become pregnant. A pregnant woman infected with Zika is at risk of delivering a baby with microcephaly, a condition in which the baby’s head is much smaller than normal and its brain fails to develop properly. “Microcephaly is a terrible birth defect,” says Nardi, “leaving babies with a lifetime of medical problems.”

“The likelihood of Zika becoming a big problem in the Hudson Valley is small,” Nardi says. The virus is predominantly transmitted by a species of mosquito not found in northern climates. “It has been found in the U.S., but people were infected in other places, as far as we know,” she says. It has also been found that men infected with the Zika virus can transmit the virus through sexual intercourse. According to Dr. Nardi, if a man is diagnosed with the Zika virus, he should abstain from sex or use condoms for six months; if Zika is suspected but not confirmed, abstinence or condom use are recommended for six weeks. Currently, there are no vaccines available to prevent infection.

Nardi advises that it is important to stay vigilant. “If you are pregnant or planning pregnancy, don’t travel to countries where the virus is pandemic,” she says. “If you’re a man and have symptoms, see your doctor to be sure you don’t spread it to someone else.”

“Zika virus will be pretty newsworthy for the foreseeable future,” Nardi says. She recommends following the news, calling the health department and checking the CDC website, www.cdc.gov/zika, to stay abreast of the situation