Zika Q&A with UW Health Infectious Disease Specialist Nasia Safdar

Madison, Wisconsin - With the Zika outbreak continuing to make headlines, Nasia Safdar, MD, a UW Health infectious disease specialist and UW Hospital medical director of infection control, answers some common questions about the virus:

 Nasia Safdar, MD

Q. How is the Zika virus transmitted, and is it only through mosquito bites?


A. The Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito; the same ones that transmit dengue. These mosquitoes are primarily active in the daytime.


Rare modes of transmission are from mother to child at the time of delivery if the mother is infected. There have been no reports of transmission by breastfeeding. Occasionally sexual contact can transmit the virus, as well as blood transfusion.


Q. Should we be prepared for Zika in Wisconsin?


A. These mosquitoes that transmit the virus are found throughout the world, so it is likely we'll see outbreaks in other areas. In the U.S. the mosquitoes are primarily found in the southern part of the country.


It's never too early to start thinking about protection from any mosquito-borne illnesses. People may be planning trips, such as for spring break or summer vacations, and it's important to have mosquito repellant available.


Q. What are the symptoms of Zika virus, and what should a person do if they suspect they may be infected?


A. Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and pink eye (conjunctivitis). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon. There is not a specific medicine to treat Zika. If you have the symptoms and have recently traveled to an area where Zika is found, you should see your healthcare provider.


Q. Is there a definitive relationship between the Zika virus and microcephaly, and should pregnant women and women of childbearing age take certain precautions?


A. No definitive relationship between Zika and microcephaly has been demonstrated as of yet, but it is concerning. For now the CDC [Center for Disease Control and Protection] recommendation is to avoid travel to areas where Zika is being reported.


Q. Are there other populations that are vulnerable to the illness, such as children or the elderly?


A. That is unknown at this time.


Q. Do we know anything about the longer-term effects of the Zika virus?


A. It's unlikely, but not fully known at this time.


Q. What are the most effective ingredients to look for in a mosquito repellant?


A. Any EPA registered repellant is okay. Permethrin treated clothing is also effective. Mosquito repellants are safe for pregnant women to use, but should not be used on infants under 2 months of age. Sleeping under mosquito netting, and covering arms and legs can also help avoid bites.


Q. There is currently no vaccine for Zika, can we expect one soon?


A. It is currently a high priority globally to develop vaccines against Zika. Here in Wisconsin the University of Wisconsin has important research on the pathogenesis of Zika - or the way in which the illness develops - that may point the way for vaccines. You can learn more about the ongoing research at UW.



From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


Learn more about the Zika virus and the U.S. public health response:

Date Published: 02/11/2016

News tag(s):  infectious diseaseshealthy livingwellness

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