What Marylanders need to know about Zika

Worried about Zika virus? While it's not in Maryland yet, it is something for Marylanders to be aware of as the summer travel season approaches, according to Dr. Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention for The Johns Hopkins Health System.

zikaZika is a viral disease spread primarily by mosquitos, although it also has been shown to be sexually transmitted by men who are infected.

Symptoms include a rash, itchy eyes, and fever and can last several days to a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The main concern is for pregnant women and women actively trying to get pregnant because Zika can cause microcephaly, which is a serious birth defect of the brain, according to the CDC website.

“It's not highly contagious person to person. It's not like the concern of Ebola,” Maragakis says. “The virus itself is very mild. ... 80 percent don't even know they have it. ... The real risk is the ever-increasing data that the virus itself causes devastating congenital abnormalities in babies of mothers who had the virus while pregnant.”

Here are a few things to be aware of about Zika:

  1. It is transmitted by two types of mosquito, the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus, neither of which are currently typical in Maryland, Maragakis says.
  2. At deadline, no cases of Zika had originated in the US. The only cases in the country were acquired in areas where there have been outbreaks, including northern South America, Central America, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. (For a full map see cdc.gov/zika.)
  3. Pregnant women or women attempting to get pregnant should consider delaying travel to affected regions.
  4. Men who have traveled to affected regions should take precautions to prevent transmitting the virus, especially to pregnant women or women attempting to get pregnant. It is unclear how long the infection lingers in the system and could last up to several weeks, Maragakis says.
  5. Pregnant women, those seeking to get pregnant and their partners who must travel to affected areas should take all measures to avoid mosquito bites, such as staying in urban areas, staying inside air conditioned buildings, wearing long sleeves and long pants, and using Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent.

Maragakis points out that there has not been an outbreak of a mosquito-borne illness in the United States in long time. This country has a number of protections against widespread infection, including well-sealed buildings and air conditioning, which helps limit the number of mosquito bites and, in turn, helps prevent an outbreak.

Though Maryland is not likely to see an outbreak of Zika, Marragakis still recommends doing everything possible to prevent mosquitos, including eliminating standing water and preventing bites with proper clothing and insect repellents.

“I can't say it would never come here, but we haven't seen any and there will be ongoing surveillance,” she says. “It's much more likely to be an issue for Marylanders traveling on spring break or traveling for the summer.”

By Betsy Stein

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