Zika 101: What All Families Should Know

It’s mosquito season, Houston. As if the bites and itching weren’t enough, now we have to worry about the Zika virus, which mosquitoes can carry from person-to-person.

Dr. Stan Spinner, chief medical officer of Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care

With all of the coverage in the news about the Zika virus, it is understandable that parents have questions. Here are the facts you need to know.

What is Zika?

Zika is a virus that can cause rash; fever, pink eye (conjunctivitis); and joint pain.

Treatment for Zika virus infection is supportive only, consisting of rest and fluids for hydration. One can treat the symptoms of the virus with acetaminophen (Tylenol) and antihistamines, but aspirin is not recommended due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome in children. Also, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) or Aleve are not currently recommended as a first line treatment, except if by the direction of your physician.

Symptoms usually clear up in less than a week, are mild and rarely require hospitalization. Only 1 in 5 (20 percent) of those infected will have symptoms. The odds are, you will never even know if you were infected.

The greatest risk of Zika virus infection is to pregnant women, as it can cause microcephaly (babies born with a small head) and other brain abnormalities in infants. There have been no local transmissions of the Zika virus so far.

How Does Zika Spread?

Mosquitoes can carry Zika from person to person. If a pregnant woman is infected, the virus can be transmitted to her baby while she is pregnant or around the time of birth. Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite both indoors and outdoors, mostly during the daytime.

As the weather becomes warmer, more mosquitos will circulate, and there is concern that we will soon start to see cases developing within the United States, as well as locally.

What Parents Can Do

Protect your family from mosquito bites. The best way to prevent getting infected with the Zika virus in areas where it is found is to take the following steps to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants or clothing made of permethrin. When possible, choose clothing made with thicker fabric as mosquitos can bite through thin cloth.
  • Use insect repellents containing DEET (such as OFF.) Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding can and should choose EPA-registered insect repellents and use them according to their product labels.
  • Stay and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms, or use a mosquito bed net (a permethrin treated bed net is best).
  • Cover crib, stroller and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
  • Do not use insect repellent on babies under 2 months of age.
  • Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
  • In children older than 2 months, do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth or to irritated or broken skin.
  • Never spray insect repellent directly on a child’s face. Instead, spray it on your hands and then apply sparingly, taking care to avoid the eyes and mouth.
  • For children with Zika symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes who have traveled to or resided in an affected area, contact your child’s healthcare provider and describe where you have traveled.
  • Fever (greater than 100.4° F) in a baby younger than 2 months old always requires evaluation by a medical professional. If your baby is younger than 2 months old and has a fever, call your healthcare provider or seek medical care.

Again, it is important to understand that while the risk to your child of any problems from infection remains quite low, an infected individual may serve as a source of infection if bitten by a mosquito capable of carrying the virus. As a parent, you can reduce the risk to all of us by protecting yourself and your children from mosquito bites.


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