Spotlight on Women's Health

Sue Partridge

An Expert Talks About Zika Virus: Sue Partridge

August 02, 2016

You've probably heard about Zika virus on the news. You may be wondering what we do and don't know about the virus and how it impacts you. That's why we talked with Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Sue Partridge from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She told us what we do and don't know about Zika, tips for preventing infection, what to do if you're traveling to an area with Zika, and more.

LCDR Sue Partridge is the Associate Director for Policy and Communication in CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. Sue works with CDC to both respond to epidemics and develop better tools to predict, prevent, and control risk, especially at a time when vector-borne diseases are emerging and spreading.

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Q: Why is Zika virus a concern for women?

A: Zika was a relatively unheard of virus until May 2015, when the Pan American Health Organization issued an alert to report the first confirmed Zika virus infections in Brazil. Since then, Zika has become a concern for anyone who lives in or travels to an area with Zika. Infection during pregnancy may result in the fetus being infected with Zika and developingmicrocephaly, a condition where a baby's head is much smaller than expected, or other severe brain defects.

Q: Are there women who should be more aware of Zika than others?

A: A pregnant woman and her fetus are at most risk for complications of infection with Zika virus. Infection during pregnancy may result in the fetus being infected with Zika and developing serious birth defects such as microcephaly.

Here's what we know:

  • Pregnant women can be infected with Zika virus.
    • The primary way that pregnant women get Zika virus is through the bite of an infected mosquito.
    • Zika virus can be spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
  • A pregnant woman can pass Zika virus to her fetus.
    • Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus during pregnancy or at delivery.

Here's what we do not know:

  • If a pregnant woman is exposed, we don't know how likely she is to become infected with Zika. If a pregnant woman is infected, we don't know:
    • How the virus will affect her or her pregnancy.
    • How likely it is that Zika will pass to her fetus.
    • If the fetus is infected, whether it will develop birth defects.
    • When in pregnancy infection might cause harm to the fetus.
    • If sexual transmission of Zika virus poses a different risk of birth defects than mosquito-borne transmission.

Q: How do women get Zika?

A: People get infected with Zika:

  • Primarily from mosquito bites.
  • Through sex.
  • There is a strong possibility that Zika virus can be spread through blood transfusions.

Q: What should women do if they are planning to travel to an area with Zika?

A: If you are pregnant:

  • DO NOT travel to an area with Zika.
  • If you must travel to an area with Zika, talk to your doctor or other health care provider.

If you are trying to get pregnant:

  • Talk to your doctor about your plans to become pregnant and the risk of getting Zika before you or your partner travel.
  • See CDC guidance for how long you should wait to get pregnant after travel.
  • You and your partner should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.

If you are not trying to get pregnant:

  • Use a highly effective method of birth control if you are able to become pregnant.
  • If you change your mind about pregnancy after travel to an area with Zika, talk to your doctor or other health care provider about how long you should wait to get pregnant.

For more information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/zika/pdfs/zika-pregnancytravel.pdf.

Q: What are the most common symptoms of a Zika virus infection, and what should women do if they think they might have Zika?

A: Many people infected with Zika virus won't even know they have the disease because they won't have symptoms. That's why it's important to prevent mosquito bites. If you are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, you should seek medical advice if you've been to an area with Zika, even if you don't have symptoms.

Symptoms

When people do have symptoms, the most common ones are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.

See your doctor or health care provider

If you have lived in or traveled to an area with Zika and get sick, see your doctor or health care provider. Make sure you tell your doctor or health care provider where you traveled. He or she may order blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viruses.

Treatment

There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika virus, but you can treat the symptoms.

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Take medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or paracetamol, to reduce fever and pain.
  • Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding.
  • If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your doctor or other health care provider before taking additional medication.

If you have Zika, prevent mosquito bites for the first week of your illness.

  • During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites.
  • An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.

Q: Will there be Zika outbreaks in the United States?

A: CDC is not able to predict how much Zika virus will spread in the continental United States. Many areas in the United States have the type of mosquitoes that can become infected with and spread Zika virus. Recent outbreaks in the continental United States of similar viruses spread by the same type of mosquito have been relatively small and limited to a small area.

Q: What can women do to prevent mosquito bites?

A: Cover up. When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. For extra protection, treat clothing with permethrin. Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing.

Use insect repellent. Use an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–registered insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol.

Mosquito-proof your home. Use screens on windows and doors. Use air conditioning when available. Keep mosquitoes from laying eggs in and near standing water.

For more information, visithttp://www.cdc.gov/zika/pdfs/zika_protect_yourself_from_mosquito_bites.pdf.

Q: What should people in sexual relationships know about Zika?

A: Men and women can take important steps to protect their partners and families from Zika.

  • If you are traveling to an area with Zika, protect yourself from mosquito bites.
  • If you have a pregnant partner and have lived in or traveled to an area with Zika, use a condom correctly every time you have vaginal, anal, and oral sex or do not have sex during the pregnancy.
  • If you have lived in or traveled to an area with Zika but do not have a pregnant partner and have been diagnosed with Zika or have (or had) symptoms, consider using condoms or another barrier method, or not having sex for at least 6 months after symptoms begin.

Get more information from CDC on Zika and pregnancy. CDC also has more information about preventingdiagnosing, and treating Zika.

The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.