According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika, a disease caused by the Zika virus, is spread to people through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, the same species that spreads yellow fever. This species of mosquito is found in the southern United States, Caribbean and South America.
Symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Only about one in five people infected with the virus develop symptoms.
Spread of the virus through blood transfusion and sexual contact have been reported.
Death in accordance to the virus is rare, however, there have been a series of reports that link the Zika virus to microcephaly, a serious birth defect in which the affected newborn’s head is smaller than normal. Microcephaly may affect intellectual development, eyesight, hearing and balance.
Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant are advised to avoid areas where the Zika virus is reported.
Erica Acosta, Associate Director of Diversity Affairs, traveled to Puerto Rico in January. Acosta, four months pregnant at the time of the trip, did not know about the virus until arriving at Puerto Rico.
“I was a little worried,” Acosta said when she learned of the virus, “I used bug spray but I was still bitten.”
Acosta said when she returned after the trip, she went to the doctor to check for symptoms. No symptoms were found and her pregancy was found to be healthy.
Acosta, who was planning on attending the Alternative Spring Break trip to the Dominican Republic in March, removed herself from the program.
“I am sad to not be going but I am very concerned for my baby,” Acosta said.
Pregnant women who have recently traveled to an area with Zika should talk to a healthcare provider about their travel even if they are not experiencing symptoms.
There is no medication or vaccine to prevent the Zika virus. The best way to prevent the Zika virus is to avoid mosquito bites. People in areas where the virus is likely to be contracted are advised to wear long sleeved shirts and pants, stay indoors and avoid areas where mosquitoes thrive, like stagnant water.
There are 52 reported cases of the Zika virus in the United States, all of which have been classified as travel-associated cases. With recent outbreaks, the number of cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States is likely to increase.