Puerto Rico is leading our nation in Zika infections, although expectations are that cases will increase in the continental U.S. with travel to and from countries and territories where there is an outbreak. Recently, NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía traveled to Puerto Rico with U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and a delegation of U.S. Latino leaders. They learned firsthand about the threat of Zika, in addition to the social and economic crisis in Puerto Rico today. The delegation visited with an expectant mother and her family in a local public housing development and learned about efforts to protect families from Zika in and around the home.
As of June 1, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the case count for the Zika virus is 618 in Washington, D.C. and U.S. states and 1,114 in U.S. territories. In addition, in the U.S. and U.S. territories, a total of 341 pregnant women show symptoms of possible Zika virus infection, according to lab evidence. Zika is a virus transmitted by infected mosquitos and presents symptoms that are usually mild. The consequences for pregnant women and their families, though, can be especially serious since Zika infections sometimes lead to microcephaly, a condition in which a baby is born with a much smaller head than expected.
As temperatures rise and we brace ourselves for the mosquitos that accompany the summer months, we sat down with a pediatric infectious disease expert to discuss some basic questions about Zika. Dr. Jose Brea Del Castillo is president of The Latin American Association of Pediatricians (ALAPE) and past president of The Latin American Society of Pediatric Infectious Diseases (SLIPE).
Dr. Brea, what are some frequent questions you get from parents about the Zika virus?
Parents want to gain a better understanding of this virus so they can protect their children. Some of the questions I’ve heard from parents at my pediatric clinic are:
- How is this disease transmitted?
- How can we avoid it?
- What are the symptoms?
- What should one do if he or she is infected with Zika?
- Is there a diagnostic test? If so, how effective is it?
- What is the danger of being infected with Zika?
- Ideas for Talking to your Children about Zika
- For Parents: A Positive Zika Virus Test? What does it mean for my child?
- Zika Activity Book: For kids in areas with Zika
- PAHO and Plazo Sesamo: Zika Video for Kids
What have you heard from your colleagues in the field of pediatric infectious diseases when it comes to providing families with information about the risk of Zika?
There are several key points we want to make sure that families understand:
- It should be clear that this is a disease primarily transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito*.
- You should seek medical advice for any symptoms of fever, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle or joint pain.
- They should not self-medicate in any case.
- The Aedes aegypti mosquito has been primarily linked to Zika and has spread to many countries and territories, including Latin America. As such, the chances of spreading Zika are quite high because the travel-associated cases.
*Note: There have been cases where Zika can be passed from a pregnant mother to her fetus; sexual transmission; and blood transfusion.
What approach do you take in helping families learn how to reduce the risk of contracting Zika?
Similar to preventing Dengue and Chikungunya, there are key measures that need to be taken to reduce the risk:
- Reduce mosquito breeding sites in the vicinity of the home
- Avoid mosquito bites by wearing insect repellent
- Mosquito nets are useful, although, to date, we see low usage of these nets
- How to Protect Yourself Against Mosquito Bites
- Controlling Mosquitos at Home
- Build Your Own Zika Prevention Kit
Puerto Rico has been featured in the news recently as community health centers aim to expand services for Zika and more families receive prevention kits. What role can health care providers and community leaders take to help pregnant women and their partners better understand their risk for themselves and their families?
It is always important that health authorities promote education at all levels and initiate interdepartmental work that includes all social organizations, municipalities, churches, public housing, etc. The priority to protect people from Zika should be to share accurate information, avoid mosquito bites, and reduce mosquito breeding sites.
Dr. Brea, given your many years of experience working in pediatric infectious disease, is there anything different about dealing with the Zika crisis (versus other diseases) that stands out for you?
With the presence of Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika in most Latin American countries, we have brought information to physicians through scientific societies (pediatrics, infectious diseases, internal medicine, etc.) on the differential diagnosis of them.
The most important rule is always to be alert and identify whether an infection is Dengue or if this can be ruled out. By identifying the correct disease in the early days, there is a greater chance of improving the patient’s health and avoiding complications and deaths.