Zika virus is an emerging disease caused by a Flavivirus. The virus is predominantly transmitted through the bite of the Aedes egypti mosquito, which inhabits much of the southern United States, as well as tropical and subtropical areas in Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and Asia. The virus can also be transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sexual activity; through blood transfusions; and from mother to fetus during pregnancy. Infected persons can infect others even when they are not symptomatic, and it is unknown how long Zika virus can survive in a host.
Zika virus usually does not present symptoms in adults who are affected, but the 20% of infected persons who do become symptomatic most often experience fever, rash, headache, joint pain, pinkeye, and/or muscle pain.
According to the CDC, there have been over 41,000 symptomatic cases reported in the United States since 2015. The vast majority of reported cases were in travelers returning from other affected countries, but both Florida and Texas reported cases that were presumed to have originated from local mosquito-borne transmission.
Although adult symptoms of Zika virus are relatively mild, Zika virus can be extremely harmful to a developing fetus if a pregnant woman is exposed. Zika virus exposure can result in fetal death, microcephaly, and other abnormalities that are collectively known as congenital Zika syndrome.
Currently, the FDA has not approved any diagnostic test for detecting Zika virus; however, 17 newly-developed diagnostic tests that utilize blood or urine samples to detect Zika infection have been authorized under emergency use authorization (EUA) by the FDA.
Much is still unknown regarding the nature of Zika virus and its potential long-term effects. There is currently no approved medication or vaccine available for Zika treatment or prevention, although experts estimate that over 40 vaccines are currently in various stages of development. The CDC’s current prevention recommendations include avoiding mosquito bites, avoiding travel in areas where Zika virus is prevalent, and using condoms. The CDC also advises women to refrain from becoming pregnant for at least eight weeks after possible exposure.