Zika virus infects people through the bite of a mosquito and can cause fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. Zika infection can cause serious or fatal birth defects in the children of pregnant women, and the virus can be transmitted sexually. Travel-related cases of Zika virus infection have been confirmed in Mississippi. No locally-transmitted cases have been reported in the state.
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Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Eighty percent of cases display either no symptoms, or mild symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon. The major risk is to the unborn children of pregnant women, who can suffer severe or fatal birth defects from Zika infection. Zika damages the brain of a developing baby, causing it to be born with a much smaller head and brain (microcephaly), vision and hearing problems or other neurological disorders, or to be stillborn.
Where Zika is found
A large outbreak of Zika virus is now occurring in the Caribbean and areas of Mexico, Central America, South America. Zika virus has infected many travelers returning to the U.S. from these areas, including Mississippians.
Zika is still a risk in two areas near Miami, Florida, where local transmission has occurred.
- Pregnant women should not travel to Zika-affected areas.
- Zika infection can be passed from a pregnant women to her baby, causing severe birth defects, including brain damage, hearing and vision loss, and impaired growth.
- Pregnant women should not have sex with any man who has traveled to a Zika-affected area unless a condom is used during sex throughout her entire pregnancy.
All women should take strong protective measures against mosquitoes when traveling in areas where Zika is being actively transmitted.
Because Zika can be transmitted sexually, men who have traveled to or who live in an area where Zika virus is actively being transmitted should abstain from sex with pregnant women, or use condoms properly every time they have vaginal, anal, and oral sex for the duration of the pregnancy. Men and women can transmit the virus sexually to partners of either sex. See the precautions for returning travelers below for avoiding sexual transmission of Zika.
Prevention for travelers
While there is no vaccine to prevent Zika, travelers can protect themselves by taking steps to prevent mosquito bites. When traveling to countries where Zika virus has been reported:
- Use insect repellent.
- Wear long sleeves and pants.
- Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Sleep under a mosquito net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
Before you travel, check for countries where Zika virus is actively being transmitted.
Advice for returning travelers
If you are returning home after traveling in an area where Zika virus is being actively transmitted, protect others by following these steps:
- Take special precautions to avoid mosquito bites for three weeks after you return home in order to prevent the transmission of the Zika virus to local mosquitoes. This includes using mosquito repellent whenever you are outdoors, avoiding areas with mosquitoes, dressing in long pants and sleeves, and staying indoors as much as possible. Avoid yard work around standing water that may expose you to local mosquitoes.
- Men should not have sex of any type with a pregnant woman for the duration of the pregnancy, or use condoms consistently until the end of pregnancy.
- Men should use condoms every time they have any type of sex for at least six months after they return home, or six months after onset of symptoms if they become ill with Zika.
- Women should use condoms or other barrier methods for eight weeks after returning home, or eight weeks after the onset of symptoms if they become ill with Zika.
- Pregnant women should not have unprotected sex with any partner who has traveled to a Zika-affected area for the duration of her entire pregnancy.
- Pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant should talk to a healthcare provider about their travel even if they don’t feel sick or develop symptoms of the disease. If you develop a fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes during your trip, or within two weeks after returning home, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Being tested for Zika
Your doctor or healthcare provider can arrange for Zika testing through the MSDH Public Health Laboratory.