Zika Virus: The White House And The CDC Answer Your Questions

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 

The White House and the CDC visit Scary Mommy to answer your questions about Zika virus

On February 5th, Scary Mommy hosted a live Q&A on our Facebook page to give our readers a chance to get their questions about Zika virus answered from two very knowledgable sources: The Center for Disease Control and The White House.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, MD (Principal Deputy Director of CDC) and Amy Pope (Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President at National Security Council) answered questions about the disease that’s taking front and center in the media and rightfully scaring people. Readers showed up and posed a lot of thoughtful questions and those answers will probably help ease your mind if you’ve been concerned.

This is scary stuff, and the best way to cope with it is the way we do everything else here at Scary Mommy; with the truth. The following are some of the questions that were posed by readers in our live chat. The answers are from The Center for Disease Control and The White House.

Is the virus a concern for infants?

We think the main group of concern is pregnant women and developing babies. There is no information that infants have a different course of infection.

Is Zika something your body clears on its own, like a cold? Or is it more like HIV or HPV, and that is something you get and then you have forever?

It looks like the virus clears the blood in about a week. We don’t know yet about cases of long-term infections. Symptoms can last a few days up to a week. As you know, HPV can be a long-term infection, and that’s why vaccine is recommended for 11-12 year olds before they may get exposed later in life.

After a single exposure, do people develop immunity? Could future pregnancies be at risk?

Once a person has been infected with Zika virus, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that Zika virus infection poses a risk of birth defects for future pregnancies.

Are newly pregnant women at a greater risk? Is there a point in pregnancy where Zika becomes less of a concern?

A lot happens in the first and early second trimester in a developing baby, but we don’t know enough to be sure that exposure later in pregnancy doesn’t also carry risk.

Is it safe for pregnant women to travel within the US right now or is it better to avoid places like airports/places with many international travelers?

Yes. There is currently NO evidence of Zika in the continental United States. And there is NO evidence that standing next to or being around international travelers – even those with a current Zika infection – puts you at risk. CDC has issued some helpful updated guidance today and there is lots on pregnancy and risks of transmission.

How does the Zika virus affect men, women, and especially children with compromised immune systems, cancers, and bleeding disorders such as hemophilia ?

4 out of 5 people infected with Zika have no symptoms at all. 1 out of 5 will have mild symptoms like fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. But pregnant women may have harm to their developing baby. As of now, we don’t believe adults or children with immunocompromising conditions are at different risk. Our main attention right now is preventing infection in pregnancy because there may be risk to developing baby.

Do you think that the Zika virus can affect our babies through breast milk? Should we be just as cautious as pregnant women? Can it affect a newborns brain development?

To date, there are no reports of infants getting Zika through breastfeeding. Because of the benefits of breastfeeding, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed even in areas where Zika virus is found.

Is it true that a vaccine is still “years” away?

President Obama met with his top advisors last week and directed his team to accelerate development of the vaccines. He also spoke to President Rousseff in Brazil and they agreed to partner on the development of Zika vaccines.

Is the Zika virus like mononucleosis, or shingles, where it can remain in your system and active for decades?

We don’t think so, based on what we know right now.

I’m allergic to regular mosquito bites and get them all the time …should I be using DEET daily? Should I be extra concerned?

Protecting yourself from mosquitoes where Zika is spreading is very important. Here’s what you need to do.

I returned from St Thomas… I got insect bites while there, but had no Zika symptoms. I’m of childbearing age and capacity. My local health department said that the test is very expensive… and must be done within 10 days of exposure. She also said that no one knows how long the virus remains in your body or if it can remain dormant. And that if I ever became pregnant in the future, my ObGyn would need to follow the same protocol as if I had been recently infected.

Is this all true and accurate?

Here’s the bottom line: women who traveled while pregnant we do recommend get tested. Today we advised more testing, but focused on pregnant women and the test is not commercially available yet. We think the virus is cleared from blood within a week or so. We also think future pregnancies are not at risk if you’ve already cleared infection.

How will this affect our newborns, or our younger children? If they are bitten now, is this a lifetime disease? Will they be able to have children of their own without the risk of spreading the Zika Virus?

Generally, the symptoms are mild and people recover quickly. In fact, approximately 4 out of 5 people don’t have any symptoms at all. We think once a person has been infected, she is likely protected from future infections. We still have a lot to learn and President Obama is prioritizing research on this and other infectious diseases. Check out this op-ed, written by my boss Lisa Monaco.

What’s the real likelihood mosquitos carrying the virus will make their way into North America, say as far as Northern California? Do I need to be concerned if I have no plans to travel?

We don’t expect Zika infected mosquitos to get a foothold in Northern California. We do know though, that the mosquito that can carry Zika is present in the Southern US. Other viruses like dengue and chikungunya are carried by the same mosquito. We’ve seen only limited local spread of those diseases in the Southern US.

My family and I have a trip to Orlando begin of March and I will be 30 weeks pregnant. Should I be concerned that the type of mosquitos that can carry the virus are in Florida? Is the baby’s brain already developed enough at 30 weeks that we should not be concerned?

Traveling to Orlando should be fine. We don’t know yet whether infection during the third trimester has risks, but we don’t currently have any precautions against travel to FL. You can find updated information about where the virus has spread.

What is your stance or advice for women who are newly pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant (with no future travel plans) with spring and summer right around the corner when mosquitoes are most prevalent?

CDC is advising that you take normal precautions to protect yourself from mosquito bites – mostly because they itch (!) – but currently, we are seeing NO evidence of Zika transmission in the continental United States. It’s also important to know that not EVERY mosquito transmits this virus. The mosquito we are most worried is not widespread throughout the United States. Here is a great link to info on areas with Zika and check out these tips on how to keep yourself safe.

What can we as Americans do for people in countries where the risk and impact seems to be much higher (if the media is correct)?

First, as President Obama announced this week, we are working closely with our partners in Brazil and Colombia to better understand and respond to Zika. But even before Zika popped on the world stage, President Obama called upon all countries to come together to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats through the Global Health Security Agenda and the United States has already committed a billion dollars to meeting our goals. More info on what we’re doing and what we will do is here.

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