Public Health Concerns

Zika Virus Update

As our world has become more interconnected the tendency for geographical spread of illnesses outside their normal zones increases. In the last few years, headlines for Ebola, MERS, Chikungunya, Dengue, and now Zika have highlighted these concerns. Zika Virus was well known in a narrow tropical belt across Africa and Asia but in 2014 moved eastward across the Pacific. In May of 2015, The World Health Organization reported the local transmission of Zika in the Western Hemisphere, with an epicenter in Brazil. As of July 15, 2016, local transmission has been found in 60 countries in the Americas, with cases reported in the continental U.S and rapid and extensive spread of the epidemic in Puerto Rico.  With the primary vector mosquito already present in our southern states and the finding of neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County having active Zika transmission, the potential for spread into larger swathes of the U.S with human to mosquito to human transmission exists.

Only one in five individuals infected with Zika becomes symptomatic.  Infection occurs 7-10 days after a mosquito bite. When clinical illness occurs it is typically mild, with symptoms of fever, rash, joint pains, and red eyes lasting several days to a week. Severe disease is rare. 

During the current outbreak, birth defect concerns have arisen in mothers infected during pregnancy.  Cases of microcephaly, primarily seen in Brazil, have led to travel concerns and cautions to areas of viral transmission for those who are pregnant or intend to become pregnant.  Other complications in infants include defects of the eye, hearing loss, and impaired growth.  The Center for Disease Control has issued a Travel Alert for pregnant travelers to areas affected by Zika virus with travel to affected countries during pregnancy strongly discouraged.  

Avoiding mosquito bites in areas of Zika virus transmission is the most important means of preventing Zika virus.  Insect repellants such as 20-30% DEET, picardin, and IR3535 are recommended and are safe, even for pregnant women, when used as directed. Mosquito avoidance should be used for travel, and for at least one week after return, to prevent possible local transmission.  While primarily a mosquito-borne disease, the virus can also be transmitted sexually from the semen of an infected male to their partner.  Men who reside or have travelled to countries with ongoing Zika transmission, and have a pregnant or potentially pregnant partner, should abstain or consistently and correctly use condoms during sexual intercourse. Experts believe that Zika is the first time that a mosquito-borne virus has been associated with human birth defects or been capable of sexual transmission. Other forms of transmission may be possible. Current knowledge of transfusion-associated Zika in Brazil is already prompting blood donation screening in selected areas of the U.S.


For more information on Zika and areas where infection is present, schedule an appointment at Student Health Services or visit these sites:

  • CDC website – 
  • Tennessee Department of Health – 



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