The Zika virus has received international attention following reports from Brazil indicating a possible link between the infection and an increase in cases of a specific birth defect called microcephaly. There are concerns that the virus may spread from a pregnant mother to her unborn child, thus affecting brain development in utero. With outbreaks throughout much of Central and South America, expectant mothers and concerned parents may have many questions.
What is the Zika virus, and how is it spread?
Zika is a blood-borne virus in the family Flaviviridae. This family includes viruses such as dengue fever, yellow fever, and others known to cause outbreaks throughout the world.
Zika is mainly transmitted through the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. When the mosquito bites an infected person, the mosquito becomes infected and can transmit the virus to another person with a bite.
Because the Zika virus is carried in the bloodstream, it is possible that a mother who becomes infected late in pregnancy or near the time of delivery could pass the virus to the baby. There are also reports of Zika being spread by sexual contact or blood transfusion. Of note, person-to-person spread by any other means has not been observed.
What are the typical symptoms of Zika infection?
80% of infected people have no symptoms at all. The remaining 20% may experience a mild illness with fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain, or a headache. Symptoms usually develop within 7 days of being bitten by an infected mosquito and last up to one week. Zika seldom leads to hospitalization or death.