WASHINGTON, DC – The nation’s emergency physicians continue to closely monitor and prepare for the evolving situation regarding the Zika virus, which recently was confirmed to spread locally in southern Florida. The virus is highly dangerous for pregnant women, because it can lead to serious birth defects in babies.
“Emergency departments are the safety net for the nation’s health care system, but most people infected with Zika will not have medical emergencies,” said Jay Kaplan, MD, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “We anticipate that people may be fearful they are infected and come to emergency departments for testing to rule out Zika. It’s important for the public to know that in most cases Zika testing will be done by Departments of Health, not in emergency departments. Emergency physicians are urging healthy patients with Zika concerns to first check with their primary care physicians or obstetricians.
Symptoms of Zika are similar to the flu and include fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, headache and conjunctivitis. While rare, Zika has been associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause weakness, and when severe, affects breathing. People with symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome or other concerns for medical emergencies should seek emergency care.
“The focus is on Zika this summer, but there are still many other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as Dengue, chikungunya and West Nile, and viruses that can cause encephalitis, a serious infection of the brain that can cause headache and fever,” said Dr. Kaplan. “The easiest and most effective way to avoid getting a mosquito-borne is to follow public health authority advice about how to prevent these insects from biting you.”
• When you are outside, use insect repellent (bug spray) that contains an EPA-registered active ingredient, such as DEET.
• DEET is safe for pregnant women, but never use DEET on infants under 2 months old; the CDC says most insect repellents can be used on children older than 2 months.
• Young children should not apply DEET on themselves, and adults must not apply it to their hands, eyes or mouth areas or on any wounds. Check with your child’s pediatrician if you have any questions.
• Pregnant woman or women planning for pregnancy may consider avoiding areas where Zika has spread locally.
• Zika can be transmitted sexually even if an infecting individual is symptom-free. Use of condoms can reduce the chance of this transmission. This may be especially important if travelling to or returning from an area of active Zika transmission.
• Wear long sleeves and pants and cover as much of your body as possible when going outside.
• Sleep under a mosquito net when you are in an “at risk” location, such as outdoors at a campsite.
• Consider purchasing pre-treated clothing for travel.
Prevention Around the House
• Stay inside in air-conditioning as much as possible if you are in an area with active Zika transmission.
• Put screens on any windows or sliding doors to keep mosquitos out. Check that screens are intact.
• Get rid of standing water near your house or in your lawn, such as puddles, flower pots, buckets, barrels and child waiting pools when they are not in use. These are mosquito breeding sites. Keep fountain waters flowing and maintain clean gutters around your property.
• Don’t handle dead birds. Mosquitos become infected when they feed on infected birds. Contact your local health department for instructions on reporting and disposing of dead birds.
As always, take precautions and go to your doctor or the nearest emergency department to get checked out if you feel you have the symptoms of a medical emergency.