FEATURE | Posted Feb. 1, 2016

The Zika virus

What you need to know about the current outbreak

Video: UC Davis infectious disease specialist Dr. Dean Blumberg offers information about the Zika virus.

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus is a virus that's been around for years, but just recently it's gained a lot of attention because of a lot of infections in Brazil.

And the main concern that we've had is that if infection occurs during pregnancy, this can result in bad fetal outcomes. So it can result in miscarriages or it can result in microcephaly, children being born with very small heads.

As you can imagine, that having a small head can also lead to a small brain, so that can affect a child's development and intellectual outcomes.

What are the symptoms of the Zika virus?

One out of five people who is affected by it and actually has symptoms, will have fever, rash, joint pains, muscle aches, and sometimes some eye discharge. And that's the same whether people are pregnant or not pregnant. The symptoms during infection are the same.

Where is the Zika virus found?

Zika virus transmission has been occurring for years in Africa, in Asia, and some Pacific islands, but what's changed is that over the past year or so, there's been a lot of transmission that's been occurring in the Americas and the Western Hemisphere.

It seems to be spreading, so we would not be surprised to see it spreading even further and, in fact, it might be starting to spread in the U.S., where the mosquito vector is.

This is a different mosquito that's more in the tropics, and this mosquito bites all day long. So we probably won't have much sustained transmission, I don't anticipate that, in California. I think the major concern is going to be the Gulf Coast.

Should people avoid traveling to areas with Zika virus activity?

One should be concerned about traveling to areas where there's active transmission, if you're pregnant or if you're thinking about trying to become pregnant.

So if somebody is pregnant or became pregnant while traveling to one of these areas and had mosquito bites, there's a concern that they could have become infected. And then there's concern that then their fetus might be affected. So they should consult their doctor.

Avoiding mosquito bites is good by wearing long pants, long sleeve shirts, and then using approved mosquito repellants. And this would be using Deet, Picaridin, and then oil of lemon eucalyptus is something that other people like because it's a little more natural.

What other information can be offered about Zika virus?

It's a dynamic situation, so we're talking about this today and what the situation is today.

But, we expect the situation to continue to evolve and there can be continuing transmission, new areas that might become endemic for this virus and so there might be other areas of concern.

And again, we may start seeing transmission in the U.S., so people should continue to monitor, get information from reliable sources, such as the CDC and the California Department of Public Health.

Related information: