BY LINDA STEVENSON, PhD, RN, FNP-C, PEDIAQ Chief Nursing Officer
Zika virus is in the news almost daily and can sound a little scary, but what does it mean for children who will undoubtedly want to play outside as the weather improves? What exactly is this virus?
The Zika virus was first discovered in the 1940’s in Africa and made its way to Polynesia by 2007 where over 70% of the people were infected. In 2014 it appeared in Brazil and other Latin American countries. In Brazil it was noted that women who were infected with the virus during pregnancy were delivering infants who had microcephaly, a condition with a markedly small skull and altered brain development. The virus has been found in Puerto Rico and there is concern that the Gulf Coast is at high risk. It has recently been found to be present in the semen of men infected with the virus for up to7 to 10 weeks after the onset of symptoms.
The virus is carried by mosquitos specifically the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This mosquito is already found in parts of the U.S. It is also known to transmit dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya viruses. Mosquitos can pick up the virus by biting someone infected with the virus and then transmit it to an unsuspecting victim. There is no vaccine to protect against the virus and no specific treatment if one acquires it.
Eighty percent of people who are infected with the virus have no symptoms. When a person does have symptoms they are usually mild, and include fever, rash, muscle and joint pain, headaches, pain behind the eyes and conjunctivitis (red & itchy eyes). The symptoms last for 2 to 7 days. A very rare complication is the development of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves causing severe weakness and often paralysis. Acetaminophen is effective for the fever and pain with mild symptoms. Ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are not recommended until dengue fever is ruled out to avoid the risk of hemorrhage.
What can you do to help prevent a Zika virus infection? Avoid travel to areas with Zika outbreaks when possible. Use insect repellant that contains at least 20% DEET, picardin, oil of lemon-eucalyptus or IR3535 whenever your child goes outside. Apply the repellant to all areas of exposed skin. Apply it to your hands and then apply it to your child’s face & neck so as not to get it in their eyes.
Mosquitos are most active near dawn and dusk; avoid going outside during those times if possible. When possible wear long sleeves and pants when outside during peak mosquito times or when spending extended periods out of doors. If you become infected with the Zika virus, avoid getting any more bites for at least 7 days after the onset of symptoms to avoid passing the infection to the local mosquito population. Around your home follow normal precautions to prevent or decrease the watery breeding grounds for mosquitos.
Remember most of the time the infection is mild, it is only in rare instances that it becomes serious such as with women who are pregnant when they acquire the virus. To date there have been no serious complications with children.