On February 5th, popular site Scary Mommy hosted a live Q&A giving their readers a chance to get their questions about Zika virus answered from two very knowledgable sources: The Center for Disease Control and The White House.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, MD (Principal Deputy Director of CDC) and Amy Pope (Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President at National Security Council) answered questions about the disease that’s taking front and center in the media and rightfully scaring people. Readers showed up and posed a lot of thoughtful questions and those answers will probably help ease your mind if you’ve been concerned.
Is the virus a concern for infants?
We think the main group of concern is pregnant women and developing babies. There is no information that infants have a different course of infection.
Is Zika something your body clears on its own, like a cold? Or is it more like HIV or HPV, and that is something you get and then you have forever?
It looks like the virus clears the blood in about a week. We don’t know yet about cases of long-term infections. Symptoms can last a few days up to a week. As you know, HPV can be a long-term infection, and that’s why vaccine is recommended for 11-12 year olds before they may get exposed later in life.
After a single exposure, do people develop immunity? Could future pregnancies be at risk?
Once a person has been infected with Zika virus, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that Zika virus infection poses a risk of birth defects for future pregnancies.
Are newly pregnant women at a greater risk? Is there a point in pregnancy where Zika becomes less of a concern?
A lot happens in the first and early second trimester in a developing baby, but we don’t know enough to be sure that exposure later in pregnancy doesn’t also carry risk.
Is it safe for pregnant women to travel right now or is it better to avoid places like airports/places with many international travelers?
Yes. There is currently NO evidence of Zika in the continental United States. And there is NO evidence that standing next to or being around international travelers – even those with a current Zika infection – puts you at risk. CDC has issued some helpful updated guidance today and there is lots on pregnancy and risks of transmission.
How does the Zika virus affect men, women, and especially children with compromised immune systems, cancers, and bleeding disorders such as hemophilia ?
4 out of 5 people infected with Zika have no symptoms at all. 1 out of 5 will have mild symptoms like fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. But pregnant women may have harm to their developing baby. As of now, we don’t believe adults or children with immunocompromising conditions are at different risk. Our main attention right now is preventing infection in pregnancy because there may be risk to developing baby.
Do you think that the Zika virus can affect our babies through breast milk? Should we be just as cautious as pregnant women? Can it affect a newborns brain development?
To date, there are no reports of infants getting Zika through breastfeeding. Because of the benefits of breastfeeding, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed even in areas where Zika virus is found.
Is it true that a vaccine is still “years” away?
President Obama met with his top advisors last week and directed his team to accelerate development of the vaccines. He also spoke to President Rousseff in Brazil and they agreed to partner on the development of Zika vaccines.
Is the Zika virus like mononucleosis, or shingles, where it can remain in your system and active for decades?
We don’t think so, based on what we know right now.
I’m allergic to regular mosquito bites and get them all the time …should I be using DEET daily? Should I be extra concerned?
Protecting yourself from mosquitoes where Zika is spreading is very important.
How will this affect our newborns, or our younger children? If they are bitten now, is this a lifetime disease? Will they be able to have children of their own without the risk of spreading the Zika Virus?
Generally, the symptoms are mild and people recover quickly. In fact, approximately 4 out of 5 people don’t have any symptoms at all. We think once a person has been infected, she is likely protected from future infections. We still have a lot to learn and President Obama is prioritizing research on this and other infectious diseases.
What is your stance or advice for women who are newly pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant (with no future travel plans) with spring and summer right around the corner when mosquitoes are most prevalent?
CDC is advising that you take normal precautions to protect yourself from mosquito bites – mostly because they itch (!) – but currently, we are seeing NO evidence of Zika transmission in the continental United States. It’s also important to know that not EVERY mosquito transmits this virus. The mosquito we are most worried is not widespread throughout the United States. Here is a great link to info on areas with Zika and check out these tips on how to keep yourself safe.