The Story of the Zika Virus Shouldn’t End with the Rio Olympics

As with many Olympiads of years’ past, the conversation leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has been laced with controversy. But in this case of this year’s global athletic event, health concerns have dominated the headlines, as news of the Zika virus spread across the world.

This led to public calls for athletes, in addition to attendees, to sit out the summer games this year, altogether. Their dream of Olympic glory was simply not worth the potential cost of their health. But with the end of the Olympics in Brazil, reports are becoming more positive, echoing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s July declaration that the Rio Olympics were “unlikely to spread” or accelerate the spread of the Zika virus.

After all, it is currently winter in Rio, and mosquitoes carrying the virus are less likely to be active this time of year.

Unfortunately, however, it has been reported that the Zika virus has made its way to America, with new cases reported in Florida and attributed to local mosquitoes. In light of this news, here is what you need to know about Zika to keep yourself safe at home or if you plan to travel abroad to impacted areas.

Zika Risk Factors and Symptoms

Following the original outbreak that began in northeast Brazil, Zika has since been linked to pediatric brain damage and microcephaly (when an infant is born with a smaller head). Adults are also at risk, as Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder where a body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system, and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which is characterized by short, intense swelling in the spinal cord and brain, have been connected to the Zika virus.

Currently, there are two ways an individual can contract the Zika virus:

  • Primarily through bites of an infected Aedes mosquito; and
  • Unprotected sexual contact with someone who is infected.

According to the CDC, there is very low risk of transmission associated with blood transfusions, but that is subject to change, were the virus to spread further and become more commonplace.

Often many individuals do not present symptoms of the Zika virus, but some include fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes, as well as muscle pain and headache. These symptoms can last up to a week, and the virus itself is not fatal. But due to other healthcare issues that may evolve as a result of contracting the virus, you should contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing these symptoms and have recently traveled to an impacted area. Your diagnosis can be confirmed with a blood or urine test.

Seeking Treatment for Zika

If you or someone you know has a positive Zika virus diagnosis, unfortunately, there is no current vaccine or medicine that treats it - you can only treat the symptoms. Keep hydrated with fluids, rest, and use pain or fever reducers like acetaminophen (Tylenol®).

You should not, however, take aspirin or other NSAIDS. If you are currently taking any other medication, consult your doctor before adding any additional medication to your regimen for treatment.

Ultimately, the Best Strategy for Zika Is Prevention

Since there is currently no treatment available for Zika, the best course for you and your loved ones is prevention - especially if you are currently (or plan on becoming) pregnant.

If you are at high-risk, do not travel to areas with reports of Zika. In addition to preventing mosquito bites with EPA-registered insect repellents and adequate coverage with clothing, you should use condoms or other barrier methods with sexual partners - especially those who have also recently traveled. Also, if you are looking to grow your family, it is recommended that you wait eight weeks before trying, if you have traveled to an area impacted or under warning of the Zika virus.

Finally, don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your healthcare provider. They can discuss your personal circumstances, as well as any questions or concerns you may have about the Zika virus.

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If you're interested in learning more about the Zika Virus, or to schedule a consultation, call us at 202-877-3627.

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Go Viral: Inoculation Was Introduced to America by an African Slave

With hope for the development of a  Zika virus vaccine during Black History Month, here's a little-known fact to share: Inoculation was introduced to America by an African-born slave.

During the smallpox epidemic in 1721 in Boston, an enslaved person named Onesimus told his master about a centuries-old tradition of inoculation he had learned during his childhood in Africa. He explained that by extracting the material from an infected person and scratching it into the skin of an uninfected person, you could deliberately introduce smallpox to the healthy individual making them immune. Eventually, a physician experimented with the procedure by inoculating over 240 people. Records indicate that only 2% of patients requesting inoculation died compared to the 15% of people not inoculated who contracted smallpox. When the research was reported, Onesimus received credit for the idea. Later,  his traditional African practice was used to inoculate American soldiers during the Revolutionary War and introduced the concept of inoculation to the United States.

"MedStar Washington Hospital Center is proud to be at the forefront of fighting infectious diseases and caring for patients affected by them. We are inspired by innovators of both the past and the present,” says Dr. Glenn Wortmann, chief of Infectious Diseases. “From smallpox or tuberculosis, to Ebola and the zika virus, the need to grow and share knowledge is never ending.”

Source: pbs.org/black-culture and ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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Zika Virus Update: Stay Informed. Stay Vigilant.

Three confirmed cases of the Zika virus have now been reported in D.C., all from people who have traveled outside of the United States, according to the D.C. Department of Health. One of the three cases came in 2015 and the other two were confirmed this year. All three cases involve people who took trips to Central and South America. One case involved a woman who was pregnant.

While the virus has been fast-spreading in the Americas, it is important to remember that the virus poses no immediate threat to the health and well being for many of us in the United States. It’s also crucial to note that the Zika virus is not an airborne pathogen, which means it’s not contagious. Here are some things you need to know about the Zika virus.

How is the virus transmitted?
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This same mosquito spreads dengue and chikungunya viruses. There is no strong evidence of fluid-to-person transmission, and the virus cannot be passed by skin or respiratory contact or through droplets from a sneeze. But in the wake of news out of Dallas of a suspected case of transmission of the Zika virus through sexual contact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines for how pregnant women should protect themselves from getting infected, if their partner has traveled to an area with active transmission of the virus and has had symptoms. If that is the case, using condoms during sex is an easy way to protect oneself.

If I am pregnant and have traveled to an area where Zika is prevalent, should I get tested?
If you are pregnant and develop fever, rash, headaches and have joint pain within two weeks after traveling to an affected country, it’s important to call your health provider right away and discuss your exposure and your travel history. If you’ve had symptoms and traveled to an infected area in the Americas, the CDC will test the serum to determine if the virus is present.

What are the symptoms?
Only one in five people infected with Zika virus will have symptoms and become ill. The symptoms are mild and can last several days up to a week. Again, the most common are fever, rash and headaches. There’s no treatment for the virus. The disease has to run its course.

How to protect yourself?
If you are pregnant, the CDC recommends that all women postpone their travel abroad to Zika-infected regions. If you’re not pregnant, there’s no need to change your travel plans, but it is important to protect yourself in order to avoid mosquito bites. Mosquito repellents like Deet are the best protection against the Zika virus.

Is their definitely a link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, the birth defect that causes babies’ heads to be smaller than expected?

A lot remains unknown about the Zika virus. We have associations, but there are no definite confirmations. The huge spike in the numbers of children born with microcephaly in the Americas is alarming and is reason for concern. Evaluations and investigations are ongoing in this country and abroad. It’s important that women remain calm and stay informed.

Stay Informed

Bookmark www.MedStarWashington.org/CenterView to return for additional updates as they become available.

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Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

With the announcement of confirmed cases of the Zika virus in the United States, it is natural for people to be concerned. Here is information to help you be better informed about the mosquito-borne virus.

Dr. Glenn Wortmann, chief of Infectious Diseases at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, says this isn’t a virus that kills, and risks are minimal, but the suspected link between the virus and a serious birth defect called microcephaly has federal health officials on alert. Dr. Wortmann discusses the symptoms and treatment for Zika with WJLA-TV, Channel 7. http://wjla.com/news/local/virginia-traveler-tests-positive-for-zika-virus

Key Facts

  • Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes.
  • People with Zika virus disease usually have a mild fever, skin rash (exanthema) and conjunctivitis. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days.
  • There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available.
  • The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites.
  • The virus is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the mosquito-borne Zika virus is ‘spreading explosively’ in the Americas and could infect as many as three to four million people within 12 months. Zika is primarily transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes. It’s too early to tell if the mosquitoes will make their way to the United States this summer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has 31 confirmed cases in 11 states and the District of Columbia. The agency says all of the reported cases are travel-related, and the CDC is urging pregnant women to postpone their travels to areas where the Zika virus has spread.

Learn more about the Zika virus and get further guidance, such as mosquito bite prevention, from the CDC here: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html

Mosquito Control

While it is not mosquito season in the majority of the United States, it is helpful to remember these mosquito control tips:

  • Eliminate standing water in and around your home and tightly cover water storage containers (buckets, cisterns, rain barrels) so that mosquitoes cannot get inside to lay eggs. For containers without lids, use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito.
  • If you have a septic tank, repair cracks or gaps, cover open vent or plumbing pipes and use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito.
  • Keep mosquitoes out of your home with screens on windows and doors without any large holes. Use air conditioning when available.

Bookmark www.medstarwashington.org/CenterView to return for additional updates as they become available.

Have Any Questions?

We're here to help! Contact us for more information about virus prevention.
Call us at 202-877-3627.

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