Zika Prevention

by Mary Gallagher, RN, MSN, CCRN

Jun 1, 2017
Health

WHILE BABIES AND CHILDREN can be infected with Zika through the bites of two types of mosquitoes, no cases of Zika have been reported as a result of breastfeeding. Because of the benefits, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed even in areas where Zika virus is found.

Common symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. Symptoms usually go away within a few days to a week. Many people infected with Zika don’t have symptoms. There is no vaccine or medication for the illness.

Birth defects including microcephaly and other problems have been reported in babies born to women infected with Zika. The Zika virus can pass from a woman to her fetus during pregnancy or around the time of birth. The Centers for Disease Control are studying how Zika virus affects pregnancies.

Brazil has seen a large increase in cases of Zika since May 2015. During this outbreak, Brazilian officials reported areas with Zika experienced an increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Recently, the CDC concluded Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.

Pregnancy loss and other pregnancy problems have been reported in women infected with Zika during pregnancy. Zika has been linked with birth defects including eye defects, hearing loss and impaired growth. Some babies infected with Zika before birth may not be born with microcephaly but later experience slowed head growth and develop microcephaly after birth.

However, not all babies whose mothers had Zika during pregnancy are born with health problems. Researchers are working to better understand how common it is for Zika infection during pregnancy to cause problems. Infection with the virus at later times, including around the time of birth or in early childhood, has not been linked to microcephaly.

Microcephaly happens for many reasons, such as genetic conditions, certain infections and toxins. If your child has microcephaly, your health care provider will look for the underlying reason. For about half the children with microcephaly, however, the cause is never discovered. If you have a child with microcephaly, it is unlikely it resulted from Zika if you did not travel during pregnancy to an area with Zika. Although head size reflects brain size, it does not always predict short- or long-term health effects. While some children with microcephaly have seizures, vision or hearing problems and developmental disabilities, others do not experience any health problems.

We do not know how likely it is for Zika to pass from a woman to her fetus during pregnancy or around the time of birth. We do not know whether the timing of the woman’s Zika infection during pregnancy or the severity of her symptoms affect her pregnancy. We do not know the long-term health outcomes for infants and children with Zika infection.

The CDC are developing laboratory tests to diagnose Zika quickly. They study the link between Zika and microcephaly and other developmental delays and update the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry daily. The CDC also test different mosquito species to find out whether they carry Zika and advise U.S. travelers returning from areas with outbreaks and support U.S. states and territories already affected by Zika. Finally, the CDC prepare states and Americans with prevention actions in advance of mosquito season.

As parents you can prevent mosquito bites on children. Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs. Cover crib, stroller and baby carrier with mosquito netting. Use insect repellent as directed. Do not use on babies younger than 2 months, and do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or paramenthanediol on children younger than 3 years. Do not apply repellent on a child’s hands, eyes, mouth or irritated or broken skin. Never spray repellent directly on a child’s face; instead, spray it on your hands and apply sparingly, avoiding the eyes and mouth. Control mosquitoes inside and outside your home.

If your child has symptoms, seek medical attention and inform your health care provider if your child has traveled or lived in an area with Zika. Fever of 100.4 degrees or higher in a baby younger than 2 months always requires a medical evaluation.

For protection from Zika when traveling, use EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or paramenthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. Do not spray repellent under clothing. If you use sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second. Used as directed, these repellents are safe and effective for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Spray clothing and gear with permethrin; follow the directions on the bottle and reapply as directed. Do not spray it on your skin.

If your room is not well-screened and air-conditioned, use a bed net when sleeping. Mosquitoes can live indoors and bite at any time, day or night. Bring condoms for protection against pregnancy. Zika can be passed through sex; use condoms during and after travel to protect yourself and your partner. If you are pregnant, use condoms for the rest of your pregnancy. Not having sex eliminates the risk of getting Zika through intercourse.

The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 

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