HALIFAX/PLYMPTON– State and local officials are warning Massachusetts residents about the Zika virus. The virus, making headlines nationally, is making its way north from South and Central America into US territories such as Puerto Rico and onto the US mainland in states such as New Jersey, Texas and Florida.
Zika is usually spread by certain types of mosquitoes. It is extremely unlikely that anyone could become infected with Zika from a mosquito bite in Massachusetts because the kinds of mosquitoes that are known to carry Zika are not found here, say officials. But travelers to zika-ridden parts of the world are warned.
At this time, only people traveling to places with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks or engaging in sexual activity with someone who has traveled to these places are at risk for getting the infection. If you or your partner is planning to travel, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health recommends you check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices for information about where the Zika virus is occurring.
Most people– nearly 80%– who are exposed to Zika will not get sick. Those who do get sick may experience symptoms several days after infection that may include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Occasional immune system issues have occurred, rarely.
Although Zika virus is usually spread by mosquito, the virus can also be spread from a man to his partner during unprotected sexual contact and from a pregnant woman to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth.
Until more is known, pregnant women and couples trying to become pregnant should postpone travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing, according to the federal and state officials. Pregnant women should talk to their healthcare provider first and take great care to avoid mosquito bites during the trip. Further travel advice for pregnant women is available at this CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/pdfs/zika-pregnancytravel.pdf.
If you are trying to become pregnant and have potentially been exposed to Zika through travel or sexual activity, the CDC has provided suggested time periods to wait before trying to become pregnant, generally 8 or more weeks after exposure. You should consult with your healthcare provider for more information.
Recently, there is also concern that Zika could be transmitted through blood transfusions from an infected donor, as well as breast milk, urine and saliva but transmission potential from these sources is still being investigated.
Although Zika virus has been known to cause infection in people in Africa and Asia since the 1950’s, outbreaks of Zika infection have occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands only more recently. During 2015, Zika virus was found in South America for the first time. Since then, it has spread to many countries in Central and South America, the Caribbean and some of the Pacific Islands, resulting in a very large outbreak of public health concern.