'How long is it active?' and five more tough questions we still have about Zika
Four new cases of Zika have been confirmed in Florida as the first cases in the U.S. unrelated to travel near countries already hit with the virus. Even though mosquitoes in the area have not tested positive, the Florida Department of Health believes that's how these cases were transmitted.
Zika is quickly turning into a worldwide terror. And unfortunately, the news coverage is leaving us with a lot of scary questions we'd like answered.
It just takes one look at the heartbreaking pictures of the South American babies born with microcephaly to make you realize what a serious threat this. The virus hit a little closer to home when the CDC announced a total of 279 pregnant women have tested positive for Zika in either the U.S. or its territories, and now that it may be spreading through mosquitoes here at home, people are even more concerned.
What we do know
It's most common to get the disease from a bite from an infected mosquito, but you can also catch it from having sexual contact with an infected person. There is no vaccine for it (yet!), but once you've had it you have a lifelong immunity to it.
That's obviously not a lot of information. I reached out to the CDC for more details but they don't have a lot more to add right now. (Yet another reason we need Congress to approve more funding for this, stat!) Here are some questions we'd really like answered:
How long does it stay in your system?
Since people can test positive for it decades after having it, it appears that we retain at least an immune response to it. But can it affect us even after the initial infection has passed? The CDC says it's unknown at this time how long the effects will last as each person reacts a little differently to it. Most people get a very mild case — so mild they may not even know they have it!
I'm pregnant or wanting to get pregnant. Am I dooming my baby?
Right now it's unknown how frequently a mother with Zika passes it to her fetus or how frequently a fetus with Zika develops the birth defects. (It's definitely not 100 percent as many women have tested positive for the disease and gone on to have perfectly healthy babies!) The CDC offers no official recommendation except to say that women should practice safe sex and guard against mosquitoes during pregnancy or when attempting to get pregnant.
Will I ever be able to get pregnant if I've had Zika?
"Based on the available evidence, we think that Zika virus infection in a woman who is not pregnant would not pose a risk for birth defects in future pregnancies after the virus has cleared from her blood," says the CDC.
Are all Zika babies the same?
It does not appear that the birth defects are all equal in severity, with some babies experiencing severe, life-ending microcephaly while others don't have the microcephaly at all but do experience blindness, hearing loss and stunted growth, according to the CDC.
How worried should we be if our kids get it?
Zika kills almost no one. That's the good news. Most people just experience a fever, red eyes and a headache — kids included. But rarely it can lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder.
Will our kids be able to have babies later without danger?
I currently have a 19-year-old sister living in Brazil and I can tell you this is a big concern she and her friends there have. But good news, according to the CDC, it appears the virus does not have a long-lasting effect on fertility.
While we wait for more answers, the CDC adds it's best for all women to take extra precautions against mosquito bites, especially as North America is now headed into peak mosquito season. This includes not going out during daytime hours (as this is when the bugs are most active), wearing clothing that provides full coverage and using a repellent. The CDC recommends using only an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol. They say that when used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
This article was originally published May 2016. Updated July 2016.