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Health Advisories

What You Need to Know About Zika Virus

Aug. 2016

Although reported cases of Zika virus have been rare in the United States, the CDC has now confirmed several cases in Tennessee. We want you to have the facts about the virus – and know what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.

What is Zika virus?

Zika virus is a type of virus that is spread by mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that carry Zika bite during daylight hours.

You're more likely to get the virus if you travel to parts of the world where it's more common. This includes parts of South America, Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.

Zika virus is usually mild and may not cause symptoms. But it can be more serious for women who are pregnant.

Learn More at the Healthwise® Knowledgebase

How is Zika virus spread?

Travelers who have Zika can spread it when they come home or travel to another area. If they get bitten, they can spread the virus to other mosquitoes.

A pregnant woman who gets infected with Zika can pass it to her unborn baby.

It may also be possible to spread Zika through sexual contact. But Zika is most often spread through bites from an infected mosquito.

Learn More at the Healthwise® Knowledgebase

What are the symptoms?

Most people infected with Zika don't have any symptoms.

The main symptoms are fever, rash, very painful joints, and red eyes. Symptoms are usually mild. They most often start within a week after the bite.

Some people also have a headache and muscle pain.

Learn More at the Healthwise® Knowledgebase

How is it treated?

There is no treatment for Zika virus. Symptoms usually go away on their own after about a week.

Treating your symptoms may help you feel better.

  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
  • Get extra rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

Learn More at the Healthwise® Knowledgebase

What if you're pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant?

Experts believe that babies born to women infected with Zika virus are at risk for birth defects, including microcephaly (say "my-kroh-SEF-uh-lee"). Microcephaly means that the baby's head is smaller than normal. It causes problems in how the baby's brain develops.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women wait until after they give birth before they travel to areas where there are Zika outbreaks.

Women who are thinking about becoming pregnant should talk to their doctor about their risk.

Learn More at the Healthwise® Knowledgebase

How can you prevent Zika virus?

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus. But you can protect yourself from mosquito bites, especially when you travel.

  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
  • Use insect repellent with DEET (N,N diethylmetatoluamide). You can buy it in different strengths up to 100%. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other experts suggest that it is safe to use a repellent that contains 10% to 30% DEET on children older than 2 months.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and are concerned about using DEET, talk with your doctor. There is no evidence that the use of DEET by pregnant or lactating women poses a health hazard to developing babies or children who are breastfeeding.
  • Spray clothing with DEET. Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing. (Remember that DEET can damage plastic, such as watch crystals, eyeglass frames, and some synthetic fabrics.)
  • Sleep under mosquito netting if you sleep during daylight hours.
  • Use flying-insect spray indoors around sleeping areas.
  • Do not leave puddles or open containers of water near where you are staying. Mosquitoes breed in standing water.
  • Avoid areas where there is an outbreak, especially if you are pregnant.

If you do get infected with Zika, protect yourself from mosquito bites, especially during the first week. This will help prevent the virus from spreading to other people.

Learn More at the Healthwise® Knowledgebase


Pregnancy and the Zika Virus

What we know

  • Pregnant women can be infected with Zika virus.
  • The primary way that pregnant women get Zika virus is through the bite of an infected mosquito.
  • Zika virus can be spread by a man to his sex partners.
  • A pregnant woman can pass Zika virus to her fetus.
  • Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus during pregnancy or at delivery.

What we do not know

If a pregnant woman is exposed

  • We don't know how likely she is to get Zika.

If a pregnant woman is infected

  • We don't know how the virus will affect her or her pregnancy.
  • We don't know how likely it is that Zika will pass to her fetus.
  • We don't know if the fetus is infected, if the fetus will develop birth defects.
  • We don't know when in pregnancy the infection might cause harm to the fetus.
  • We don't know whether her baby will have birth defects.
  • We don't know if sexual transmission of Zika virus poses a different risk of birth defects than mosquito-borne transmission.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What BlueCross is doing

  • We're working with key state and federal health officials, provider organizations and others to monitor reports of infectious diseases, including Zika virus.
  • We follow information and guidance from the CDC and receive alerts for any newly acquired information and updates.
  • We're in contact with officials at the Tennessee Department of Health (TDOH) and local health departments, when appropriate. TDOH also collaborates with medical providers, hospitals, laboratories and professional organizations statewide on the latest information, guidelines and coordinated response.

How to get help

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have Zika, visit your primary care physician or contact your local health department for further guidance. For residents of Tennessee, contact the Tennessee Department of Health at 615-741-7247.

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Healthwise is a URAC accredited health web site content provider. To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.

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