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What Ohioans Need to Know About the Zika Virus

An OhioHealth doctor explains there’s no need to panic. Learn the basics and how to protect yourself

With the alarming spread of the Zika virus abroad and cases starting to pop up in the U.S., worries about the relatively unknown virus are on the rise. The World Health Organization recently declared a “public health emergency of international concern” over the Zika virus.
But for Ohioans, there’s no need to go installing a mosquito net over your bed, says Joseph M. Gastaldo, MD, who specializes in infectious diseases at Riverside Infection Consultants. “I would put its threat on the low scale with an asterisk for pregnant women,” he says. Read on to get all your Zika questions answered.

What Is Zika?

The Zika virus, or Zika fever, is transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. It has been associated with birth defects, including babies being born with small heads who may die or have long-term developmental delays.
Only one in five people who become infected with the Zika virus develops symptoms, which include a fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, and red eyes. There is no treatment or vaccine for the Zika virus.

Should I Be Worried?

In May, Zika arrived in the Western Hemisphere when cases turned up in Brazil. Since then, the virus has been quickly spreading through central and South America; Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are included in the list of places with Zika outbreaks.
Until recently, the only residents of the continental United States who have contracted the virus did so overseas. But earlier this year, it was confirmed that one Zika case in Texas was spread by sexual contact, and as Americans travel, they may arrive home with the virus.
Later this year, there are expected to be cases of people who contract the disease here in the U.S. from a Zika-infected mosquito, Gastaldo says. The first outbreak in the U.S. likely will be in a tropical weather state such as Texas, Louisiana and Florida, where mosquitoes flourish. “Pregnant women and women who are thinking about becoming pregnant will have to keep that in mind and take appropriate precautions,’’ Gastaldo says.

How Can I Protect Myself?

The best way to prevent Zika virus is to avoid mosquito bites by covering up and wearing mosquito repellant.
“The virus is here in the Americas. It’s going to be here for a while,’’ Gastaldo said. “As time goes on, I’m certain there will be increased communication with health department officials. There will be more education about it. This is something that’s going to factor into prenatal care.”

Zika may not be as large of a concern as some might think, but soon-to-be mothers could have other worries. If you need help with childbirth or parenting, check out our classes at OhioHealth!