zikaOriginally posted here by Dr. Stan Spinner, Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care Chief Medical Officer

With all of the coverage in the news about the Zika virus lately, it is understandable that parents have questions. Here are the facts you need to know about this virus.

What is Zika?
Zika is a virus that can cause the following symptoms:

  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Joint pain

Treatment for Zika virus infection is supportive only, consisting of rest and fluids for hydration. One can treat the symptoms of the virus with acetaminophen (Tylenol) and antihistamines, but aspirin is not recommended due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome in children. Also, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) or Aleve are not currently recommended as a first line treatment, except if by the direction of your physician.

Symptoms usually clear up in less than a week, are mild and rarely require hospitalization. Only 1 in 5 (20 percent) of those infected will have symptoms. The odds are, you will never even know if you were infected.

Should a child infected by the Zika virus be excluded from school/child care?
The Zika virus does not spread from casual contact with others. As with all illnesses, children should remain out of school/child care if they have a fever.

The greatest risk of Zika virus infection is to pregnant women. In February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a public health emergency. Federal health officials have confirmed that the Zika virus can cause microcephaly (babies born with a small head) and other brain abnormalities in infants. Leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that while many questions remain, they hope this finding will help improve communication and prevention efforts as they continue to study the virus.

It is important to note, that there have been no local transmissions of the Zika virus so far.

How does Zika spread?

Mosquitoes can carry Zika from person-to-person. If a pregnant woman is infected, the Zika virus can be transmitted to her baby while she is pregnant or around the time of birth. Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite both indoors and outdoors, mostly during the daytime. Some cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in the United States, although to date, these cases have all occurred in individuals who had recently returned from areas where the virus is active.

As the weather becomes warmer, more mosquitos will circulate and there is concern that we will soon start to see cases developing within the United States, as well as locally. Parents should take steps to protect their children and themselves from mosquito bites, and make sure that anyone else who cares for their children do the same.

Travel warning
Until more is known about the Zika virus, the CDC has specific warnings for women and women trying to become pregnant.

  • Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.
  • Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
  • Pregnant women who have traveled to such areas where the Zika virus is spreading should be tested within two to 12 weeks even if they don’t show symptoms.
  • Women trying to become pregnant, or who are thinking about becoming pregnant, should talk with their doctor before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.

What parents can do
Protect your family from mosquito bites. The best way to prevent getting infected with the Zika virus in areas where it is found is to take the following steps to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants or clothing made of permethrin. When possible, choose clothing made with thicker fabric as mosquitos can bite through thin cloth.
  • Use insect repellents containing DEET (such as OFF.) Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding can and should choose EPA-registered insect repellents and use them according to their product labels.
  • Stay and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms, or use a mosquito bed net (a permethrin treated bed net is best).
  • Cover crib, stroller and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
  • Do not use insect repellent on babies under 2 months of age.
  • Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
  • In children older than 2 months, do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth or to irritated or broken skin.
  • Never spray insect repellent directly on a child’s face. Instead, spray it on your hands and then apply sparingly, taking care to avoid the eyes and mouth.
  • For children with Zika symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes who have traveled to or resided in an affected area, contact your child’s health care provider and describe where you have traveled.
  • Fever (greater than 100.4° F) in a baby younger than 2 months old always requires evaluation by a medical professional. If your baby is younger than 2 months old and has a fever, call your health care provider or seek medical care.

Again, it is important to understand that while the risk to your child of any problems from infection remains quite low, an infected individual may serve as a source of infection if bitten by a mosquito capable of carrying the virus. As a parent, you can reduce the risk to all of us by protecting yourself and your children from mosquito bites.

About Dr. Stan Spinner, Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care Chief Medical Officer

I’ve been practicing pediatrics in Houston for 30 years. Formerly in practice at Texas Children’s Pediatrics Town & Country at West Campus and I am the Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care Chief Medical Officer.