What You Need To Know About The Zika Virus

Is it headed for Westchester?

By now, you’ve probably heard of the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne virus that causes  Zika fever. Though Zika is nothing new (it was first isolated in 1947 in Uganda and takes its name from the Zika Forest there), it began spreading in 2014, and the Pan American Health Organization confirmed the first case of the Zika virus in Brazil in May 2015. Local transmission has been reported in countries throughout South and Central America and the Caribbean. There have been three cases of the virus reported in the Hudson Valley since the end of January—both travel-related. 

Those at risk are “people who had traveled to the impacted areas, or those who have had unprotected sex with someone who is infected,” says Gary Wormser, MD, chief of Infectious Diseases at Westchester Medical Center. The Aedes mosquito—which is responsible for spreading the Zika virus, Chikungunya, and dengue—is not found in Westchester. 

If you do travel to an area in which Zika can be transmitted, there are some precautions that should be taken. “Do whatever you can to avoid being bitten,” says Dr. Wormser. “Use insect repellant, wear more clothing, and keep the AC on to avoid having open windows.”

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For most people, the risk of becoming really sick from the virus is minimal. “Most times, it’s a mild illness, only lasting a few days to a week,” says Dr. Wormser. “Symptoms are a rash, fever, red eyes, joint pain, and headaches.” 

For women who are infected while pregnant, however, the risks are much greater. Microcephaly—a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development resulting in abnormal smallness of the head—and other poor pregnancy outcomes have been reported. “Pregnant women who have traveled to an area where Zika is currently a problem should see their healthcare provider upon return,” Westchester County’s Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler, MD.  Though the virus reached epidemic proportions in South and Central America as well as the Caribbean last year, Dr. Amler is confident that, though scientists are still learning about the virus, “the day-to-day in Westchester will not change.”

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