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Tufts Public Health » Emergency Preparedness, Prenatal Health, Zika Virus » From A to Zika

From A to Zika

Amidst a battle with the Zika virus, we observe February as International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month. Pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant are being warned about the possible link to microcephaly in infants born to women who have contracted the Zika virus.

The Zika outbreak has been classified as a global public health emergency at a “level 1” status by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Level 1, the highest, has only been classified three times in the past: during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, H1N1 pandemic in 2009, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.


Zika was considered a mild illness when first discovered in Uganda in 1947. When the recent outbreak in Brazil was connected to numerous cases of microcephaly in newborns, in addition to cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, it caught the attention of the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition to Brazil, there have been reported outbreaks in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and many countries in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. Although the Zika virus is not present in the U.S., there have been reports of travel-associated cases.

According to the WHO, the Zika virus disease is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes with symptoms ranging from mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, and muscle and joint pain lasting 2-7 days. Although there is no current treatment or vaccine available, the best form of prevention is simply the protection against mosquito bites and to avoid traveling to areas where the virus is present.

Currentlzika2y, there is correlation but not causation in the many cases clustered in Brazil, and researchers are still working to verify the link. Out of 404 confirmed cases of microcephaly in newborns, only 17 have been officially linked to the Zika virus. However, it is strongly suspected by the WHO that the Zika virus is to blame for the high rates of microcephaly, miscarriage, and babies dying shortly after birth. It recommends that women of childbearing age in areas with confirmed cases of the Zika virus delay becoming pregnant until more information is available, and for others to avoid travelling to regions where Zika virus is present.

Possible sexual transmission

In early February, there was one confirmed case in Dallas County, Texas of the Zika virus being passed through sexual contact from a person who returned from an area where Zika was present to a non-traveler. Research around the possibility of sexual transmission of the Zika virus is just beginning, but the CDC is issuing precautions. CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said to CNN, “Men who live in or travel to areas of active Zika infections and who have a pregnant sexual partner should use latex condoms correctly, or refrain from sex until the pregnancy has come to term, or until a test is available to see if he could possibly infect her.”


Similar to the Ebola crisis, the Zika outbreak demonstrates the importance of emergency preparedness and rapid efforts to contain and control epidemics before they become pandemics. It is important to raise awareness among those most at risk, focus on prevention efforts, and continue research to understand the correlation between the virus and health outcomes. Recent efforts by President Obama to mitigate the Zika outbreak include asking Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funding in order by creating mosquito control programs, vaccine research, and improving the health and education for low-income pregnant women. As each day passes we discover more information about the Zika virus and communicating this knowledge is crucial.

For more up to date information on the Zika Virus visit:

by Sara Suter, MPH Candidate ’16

Filed under: Emergency Preparedness, Prenatal Health, Zika Virus

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