Zika Virus – What You Need to Know

Zika Virus – What you need to know

Although the Zika virus only recently hit American headlines it actually dates back to 1947 when it was first identified in Ugandan monkeys by scientists conducting routine yellow fever surveillance. Five years later, in 1952, it was identified in humans. From the 1960s to 1980s the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports human infections were found across Africa and Asia, typically accompanied by a mild, flu-like illness. The first large outbreak of disease caused by Zika infection was reported from the Island of Yap (Federated States of Micronesia) in 2007.

How Zika virus is spread:

  • Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, which is known to be an aggressive daytime biter. They can also, however, bite at night. On July 28, the World Health Organization (WHO) included the Culex mosquito as another insect culprit. WHO reports a study, conducted by Fiocruz Pernambuco, detected the presence of Zika virus in Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes. These samples were collected in Recife, Brazil, in houses where people had Zika. 
  • Zika also can be passed through sex, from a person who has Zika to his or her sex partners. Condoms (and other barriers to protect against infection) can reduce the chance of getting Zika from sex.

  • Pregnant mothers can pass Zika to their fetus and infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. Infected women can give birth to babies born with Microcephaly, a birth defect resulting in unusually small heads and underdeveloped brains. Microcephaly can result in mental and physical problems and even death. This correlation was first reported in October 2015 in Brazil, according to WHO.


Link to Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)

In July 2015, Brazil reported an association between Zika virus infection and (GBS), according to WHO, just two months after the first case of locally transmitted infection occurred. Brazil’s discovery, in addition to a similar correlation after a 2013-14 Zika virus outbreak in French Polynesia, is the cause for growing scientific consensus that Zika virus can be associated with GBS. Links to other neurological complications are being investigated, according to WHO.

The Mayo Clinic describes GBS as: a rare disorder in which your body's immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms.

These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body. In its most severe form GBS is a medical emergency. Most people with the condition must be hospitalized to receive treatment.

The exact cause of GBS is unknown. But it is often preceded by an infectious illness such as a respiratory infection or the stomach flu.

There is no known cure for GBS, but several treatments can ease symptoms and reduce the duration of the illness. Most people recover from GBS, though some may experience lingering effects from it, such as weakness, numbness or fatigue.

American Exposure

So far, transmissions of Zika virus in the U.S. are limited to two small areas in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Governor Rick Scott, of Florida, announced Aug. 23, 2016, that the Florida Department of Health (FDH) is adding another $5 million in funding to Miami-Dade County for Zika preparedness and mosquito control.

The Florida Department of Health reports, “Florida’s small case cluster is not considered widespread transmission. If the department identifies additional areas of concern, we will notify the media and the public immediately”

There is currently no vaccine for Zika virus but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office (HHS) of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) announced Aug. 25, 2016, that a $7 million contract was awarded to Orasure Technologies, Inc. of Bethlehem, to further the development of a Zika virus test that potentially can provide results in about 30 minutes at a doctor’s office. The agreement is the first point-of-care Zika virus test ASPR has sponsored.

“Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will provide the funding over the next three years to support the product’s continued development, manufacturing preparations and a clinical testing, which are necessary to apply for clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to commercially market the product,” according to HHS.com.

On Aug. 26, the FDA released further protective measures against the emerging Zika virus outbreak, when it issued a revised guidance recommending “universal testing of donated Whole Blood and blood components for Zika virus in the U.S. and its territories.”

Assuming the FDA’s plan goes into effect, blood donated in the U.S. will have to be screened for Zika virus within 12 weeks using an investigational test – about the same time most of the U.S. will be out of mosquito season. If a donor tests positive they must wait 120 days before donating again.

Health Network Laboratories’ Chief, Section of Transfusion Medicine and Histocompatibility, Bala Carver, MD, DIP, ABHI, said there is still much we don’t know about Zika virus. In fact, there could be other nervous-system conditions caused by Zika.

As for the blood supply in the greater Lehigh Valley region, Dr. Carver said, “As a mosquito-borne illness the CDC reports that the only locally acquired cases identified to date remain in Florida.”

Getting the Zika virus from blood that has already been donated is extremely unlikely, according to Dr. Steven Kleinman, the senior medical adviser to the AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks).

In an article published on howstuffworks.com, “All the concern over Zika isn't unprecedented. Several tests already are done on donated blood for infectious diseases including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, West Nile virus and syphilis. Those tests have proven extremely effective in keeping the blood supply clean and stopping the possible spread of those diseases via blood transfusions.”

Kleinman went on to say, “I would say contracting Zika virus from a blood transfusion is less likely than contracting some of the other agents that we have been concerned about over the last 10-15 years, 20 years, and have also put in interventions for. I think West Nile virus was more of a risk. Certainly, if we go back years and years, hepatitis C and HIV were more of a risk."


Symptoms of Zika virus:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports the symptoms of Zika virus are: fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, or red eyes. The illness usually is mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. People typically do not 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. 

The CDC lists these precautions for preventing Zika virus

1. Avoid Mosquito Bites

2. Plan for Travel

3. Protect Yourself During Sex

When to get tested?

The CDC recommends being test for Zika virus when you develop: a fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye) after traveling to an area where Zika virus is endemic; or have symptoms and had sexual contact with someone who recently traveled from an area where Zika is present; or if you are pregnant and have traveled to an area where Zika is active, regardless of symptoms; or when a baby is born with microcephaly.

If you've been infected with Zika once, it's unlikely you will be infected again.


How can I get tested?

You can order your own blood tests right now, without consulting a health care provider. We offer a Zika virus test, which detects the Zika infection.  

To find out if you've been exposed to Zika, simply choose the Zika Profile, pay for it and our board-certified physician will authorize you to have the test performed. After you order the test, you will receive a laboratory requisition in your email that you can bring with you to more than 50 convenient Health Network Laboratory locations where we will draw your blood for testing.

When your results are ready, we will let you know. Your test results are secure, confidential and available to only you. You can choose if you want to share your results with anyone else, including your doctor. Please note, we do not accept insurance at this time.