Physicians at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital encourage Fort Bend residents to remain mindful of the Zika virus throughout the fall months.
“While there might be fewer headlines about Zika now, the virus is still very much a concern, especially for individuals who have traveled to the Caribbean or who have sexual partners who may be infected,” said Sarfraz Aly, M.D., an internal medicine/infectious diseases specialist at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital.
As of early September, more than 2,400 cases of Zika have been reported in the United States, including 125 cases in Texas. The vast majority of individuals recently affected visited a Zika “hot zone,” where mosquitoes that carry the virus are plentiful and outbreaks have been severe. Only a handful are believed to have contracted the disease in the United States.
Although the most common form of transmission is via mosquito bite, researchers have identified a number of other ways that the virus can be passed from human to human, including: maternal-fetal transmission; sexual transmission; transmission via blood transfusion; organ transplant; and through exposure during research in the laboratory.
Aly says the biggest concern among U.S. medical experts is the ease with which the virus can be transmitted sexually.
“Houston is an international city, and we have many residents who frequently travel to locations in South and Central America and the Caribbean where they can be exposed via a mosquito bite, and then return home and infect a partner through unprotected sex,” said Aly.
The Centers for Disease Control says an individual who is infected with the Zika virus, or who was potentially exposed to Zika via travel to a hot zone, should abstain from all forms of unprotected sex with a pregnant partner for the duration of the pregnancy.
“This is critical because the virus can cause significant birth defects in unborn babies,” said Aly.
Any individual, male or female, who has traveled to a hot zone should wait at least eight weeks before having unprotected intercourse, even if they have no Zika symptoms. The virus typically has an incubation period of 2-14 days, and some patients never display any symptoms and can carry the virus without knowing it.
For men who have a confirmed or suspected case of Zika, the waiting period is six months before engaging in unprotected sex. For women with a confirmed or suspected case, it is eight weeks.
Once infected, the most common symptoms are low-grade fever, maculopapular rash (flat, red area covered with small bumps), joint pain and conjunctivitis (pink eye). Most people brush it off as a common cold; very rarely do patients end up in the hospital. Also very rarely, patients can be affected by Guillain-Barre syndrome – a syndrome where the peripheral neural system is affected.
As of today, there is no preventive vaccine available or specific treatment for patients with the virus. The best course of action is prevention, but once a patient is identified as having the virus, doctors typically focus on management of symptoms and primarily suggest plenty of rest and fluids.
Aly advises that, if possible, women and their partners should avoid travel to areas where Zika is prevalent. A full list of these sites is available at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/active-countries.html.
If you believe you may have been exposed to the Zika virus, contact your primary care physician immediately, or call 281-274-7500 for a physician referral. For more information on the Zika virus, visit http://www.cdc.gov/zika. For the latest news and information on Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, visit their Facebook page, fb.com/methodistsugarland.