With fear and uncertainty spreading as quickly as the virus itself, CNN Health
wanted to address some of your pressing questions on the topic.
Even though symptoms are most often mild, Zika is commanding attention because of an alarming connection between the virus and microcephaly
, a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads. It causes severe developmental issues and, in some cases, can result in death.
What are the chances I'll get the Zika virus?
The virus is most commonly transmitted when an Aedes aegypti
mosquito bites a person with an active infection and then spreads the virus by biting others. Originally discovered in a Ugandan forest, the aggressive mosquito is now predominantly raising concerns in Central and South America. If there are no infected mosquitoes in your area, you're very unlikely to contract the disease.
On February 2, the CDC confirmed the first case of sexually transmitted Zika
in the latest outbreak. A male patient who had recently returned from Venezuela infected with Zika returned to the United States and infected his sexual partner, who had not traveled. The CDC issued interim guidelines
for prevention of sexual transmission of Zika virus and noted that "there have been no reports of sexual transmission of Zika virus from infected women to their sex partners."
"Until we know more, if your male sexual partner has traveled to or lives in an area with active Zika virus transmission, you should abstain from sex or use condoms the right way every time you have vaginal, anal and oral sex for the duration of the pregnancy," the updated guidance says.
While the virus has been documented in breast milk, saliva and urine, it has not yet been confirmed if the virus can be transmitted through any bodily fluids other than blood.
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta
, "There have been isolated cases of spread through blood transfusion or sexual contact and that's not very surprising. The virus is in the blood for about a week. How long it would remain in the semen is something that needs to be studied and we're working on that now."
Frieden said that studies on sexual transmission are not easy studies to do, but the CDC is continuing to explore that avenue of transmission. "What we know is the vast majority of spread is going to be from mosquitoes," Frieden said. "The bottom line is mosquitoes are the real culprit here."
What are the symptoms and effects?
Only about one in five people infected with Zika virus will actually become ill, according to the CDC
. "The most common symptoms of Zika are fever are rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other symptoms include muscle pain and headache," the CDC says. For most people, the illness is mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. People don't usually get sick enough to require a hospital visit, and the virus very rarely results in death.
More seriously, Zika has been linked the birth defect microcephaly, as well as Guillain-Barré
, a rare syndrome in which the immune system attacks the nerves. It's important to note: a link does not necessarily indicate cause and effect.
Aside from either of these conditions, there are no lasting, long-term effects of Zika.
Additionally, once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections, according to the CDC.
What should I do if I think I've been exposed?
If you think you may have been exposed to the Zika virus, stop and ask yourself these three questions:
1. Are you pregnant?
2. Are you a woman who is thinking about getting pregnant?
3. Are you a man who is going to have unprotected sex with a woman who is pregnant or may become pregnant?
If your answer to all of these questions is "no," there is arguably no reason for you to get tested. Remember, only 20% people who contract the virus will even develop any symptoms, and those who do will experience only mild and short-lived discomfort.
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, however, you should contact your doctor about being tested for Zika. He or she can order blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viral diseases, such as dengue or chikungunya. A blood test performed in a clinical setting is the only way to be definitively diagnosed.
How I can I be treated if I have the Zika virus?
Unfortunately, as of now, there is no vaccine or specific medicine to treat Zika virus infections. Instead, the CDC recommends treating the symptoms:
-- Get plenty of rest.
-- Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
-- Take medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce fever and pain.
-- Do not take aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your health care provider before taking additional medication.
How can I keep myself safe in the U.S. or abroad?
With no vaccine available, the only protection against Zika is to avoid traveling to areas with an active infestation. If you do travel to a country where Zika is present, the CDC advises
strict adherence to mosquito protection measures: Use an EPA-approved repellent over sunscreen, wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts thick enough to block a mosquito bite, and sleep in an air-conditioned, screened room.
If you have Zika, you can keep from spreading it to others by avoiding mosquito bites during the first week of illness, the CDC said. The female Aedes aegypti, the primary carrier of Zika, is an aggressive biter, preferring daytime to dusk and indoors to outdoors. Keeping screens on windows and doors is critical to preventing entry to homes and hotel rooms.
CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta answered more of your Zika questions on his Facebook page at Facebook.com/SanjayGuptaMD