What You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

With President Obama discussing measures to expand mosquito control programs and relevant health issues currently in the news the Zika virus has been a topic of discussion, but I don’t think Americans need to worry about life threatening complications from this virus (unlike the Ebola virus which required direct contact with fluids infected from someone with the virus) if they are in fact infected.

To date, there have been no locally transmitted Zika cases within any of the 50 states, but cases of infection from the Aides mosquito have been reported in returning travelers from areas such as Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and now for the first time since 2015, Brazil, the site of the 2016 Olympics (US Olympic Committee officials urged athletes concerned about the virus to consider skipping the games.) This means that there were several cases that were acquired abroad and only detected once the travelers returned to the United States. The only known case that has been transmitted within mainland United States was in Texas via sexual transmission. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that this transmission will become widespread within the US.

Besides a mild flu like illness with itchy red eyes and muscle aches, what is worrisome about Zika? It may be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby either during pregnancy or around the time of birth, but we are unclear how this mechanism works. The link to cases of microcephaly arising in newborns is also unfortunately unclear at this time, even though these cases have been found. A second important topic is if Zika is linked to the potentially life threatening Guillain-Barre Syndrome. This is also being heavily researched as Guillain-Barre is an autoimmune condition that has been known to be triggered by the Campylobacter Jejuni bacteria, Epstein-Barr Virus or Cytalomegavirus. Therefore, while Zika has been linked to GBS in some overseas countries the CDC has yet to officially confirm the link until more research has been done.

dr. uruj kamal

dr. uruj kamal

Dr. Uruj Kamal is Chief Resident of Adult Outpatient Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center-University of Massachusetts Medical School. A Stony Brook native, she enjoys combining her knowledge of mental health with healthy living. Dr. Kamal has a special interest in outpatient adult psychiatry.