Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and is named after the Zika Forest in Uganda. In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected. Since then, outbreaks of Zika have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. As of May 10, 2016, there were 472 confirmed Zika cases in the continental United States, according to the CDC.
Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes genus female mosquito. These mosquitoes typically lay eggs in and near standing water in things like buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots and vases. They are aggressive daytime biters, prefer to bite people, and live indoors and outdoors near people.
The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika infections.
The biggest worry so far about Zika infection is the possible consequences for expectant moms, or women trying to get pregnant, especially if they travel to areas where there is active transmission. Zika virus can cause a serious birth defect in a baby – the heartbreaking abnormality known as microcephaly, marked by a smaller-than-normal head. Children with microcephaly may also have smaller-than-normal brains, seizures, difficulties with movement and balance, impaired intellectual abilities, and other neurological abnormalities
When used as directed, insect repellent is a good way to protect yourself from mosquito bites – as is wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and staying in places with air conditioning and window and door screens.
As the Zika virus appears to be primarily transmitted via blood and body fluids, and primarily through infected mosquitoes, environmental contamination does not appear to play a role in the route of infection. Use of hard surface disinfectants and hand hygiene, which are important in interrupting routes of infection involving the environment for many other pathogens, do not appear to play much of a role for Zika infections. If environmental surfaces are visibly covered with blood or body fluids, the use of disinfectants, hand hygiene, and barriers may play a role in prevention of a Zika infection, but at this point their role has not been investigated.