1. The virus is spread by mosquitoes.
Zika Virus is spread to humans through mosquito bites and is a similar virus to yellow fever and West Nile. In the U.S., there have been no locally transmitted cases reported. Travel-associated cases have been reported to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There is a CDC Health Advisory for returning travelers from Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Mexico.
2. It can cause birth defects.
Even though Zika is not dangerous for most people, it may cause serious birth defects in babies of mothers who were infected with the virus while pregnant. Zika has been linked to microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with extremely small heads and brains. Pregnant women, as well as women trying to become pregnant or who are thinking about becoming pregnant, should consider postponing travel to affected areas. For a map of the latest affected areas, visit cdc.gov/zika.
The CDC recently released guidelines that advise men with a pregnant partner to use condoms or abstain from sexual activity if they have traveled to an affected area. Zika may persist in semen longer than one week, after it is no longer detectable in blood.
More research is underway to learn the full risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy and the exact duration it lasts in semen. Once cleared, it does not pose a risk of birth defects for future pregnancies and will not cause infections in a baby that is conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood.
If you have recently traveled to an affected area, please consult with your doctor. New York State offers free testing for all pregnant women who have traveled to a country affected by the Zika epidemic, regardless of symptoms.
3. For everyone else, the common symptoms are mild.
According to the CDC, most people experience mild symptoms two to 12 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito and do not need to seek medical attention. Symptoms typically last one week and include: fever; rash; joint pain; conjunctivitis (red eyes) and headache. If symptoms persist and are more severe, please consult your primary health care provider.
4. Currently, New York City is not at risk.
There have been three reported cases in New York City; all three patients contracted the virus while traveling to other countries and have since recovered. The Aedes mosquito — the species known to carry the virus — is not currently found in the New York area.
To prepare for the start of mosquito season in April, New York is expanding current mosquito-control activities — previously used for West Nile Virus. If you have recently traveled to an affected area or believe you may have been exposed to the Zika virus, please contact your health care provider.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York Department of Health, New York City Department of Health