By Margaret Cohen, Senior Manager Online Fundraising and Engagement, PSI
You’ve probably heard about Zika virus. But what is it exactly? Who is at risk? And what can you do to help?
PSI has extensive experience helping families in the developing world overcome their most pressing health challenges. Here is what we know about Zika virus and how you can help.
- The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes and people. Typically, mosquitoes spread the virus. But there is evidence the virus may be sexually transmitted from someone who has been infected to his sexual partner.
- The mosquitoes that carry Zika are active during the daytime, so malaria-fighting bed nets are not effective in stopping infection. Reducing breeding sites and using insecticides are currently two of the most effective ways to prevent the disease.
- Symptoms of Zika virus infection are usually mild, typically begin a few days after being bitten, and usually finish in 2 to 7 days. Eighty percent of people who become infected never have symptoms. In those who do, the most common are fever, rash and conjunctivitis.
- U.S. travelers are bringing the virus back with them. These imported cases happen when a person is infected elsewhere and then visits or returns to the United States.
- There’s no vaccine to protect against the Zika virus, but researchers are working on one. Once a person becomes infected with the virus they usually develop immunity to future infections.
- Researchers are studying the potential link between the Zika virus in pregnant women and microcephaly in their babies. Microcephaly is a birth defect that impairs brain development and can cause mild to severe cognitive delays, learning disabilities and impaired motor functions. The condition is marked by an abnormally small head.
- Until a link is confirmed, it is crucial that women who are pregnant strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.
- The CDC recommends that pregnant women in any trimester consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. The most recent travel advisories can be found on their website.
- Several Latin American countries have urged women not to get pregnant for up to two years, in an attempt to avoid birth defects believed to be caused by Zika. However, no government has announced plans to increase access or remove barriers to contraception.
- PSI is already working in affected areas including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. We are supporting national responses led by the Ministries of Health. And we will continue helping men and women access contraception so that they can make their own decision about when — and whether — to become pregnant. If you would like to support our work helping women and their families stay healthy, consider making a tax-deductible gift of support.
Credit (banner): James Gathany, USCDCP