Will Zika affect your family?
Medical director of Cook Children’s Infectious Diseases looks at growing fears
Every time she sees a new headline about Zika, Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., worries that the public is being inundated with scary news that is unlikely to affect them.
The medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children’s knows that the more Zika stays in the headlines, the more fear will grow in people about the virus. And she expects the concern about the virus to increase during summer as mosquitos become more widespread.
Dr. Whitworth wants people to take the necessary measures to fight against Zika, but cautions parents to balance their fears with a common sense approach to the virus.
“Zika is very rarely found to be fatal,” Dr. Whitworth said. “It often causes a flu-like illness and many people who become infected with the Zika virus won’t even know they have it because they won’t have symptoms.”
Zika is not a bacterial disease that can be spread the same way as an illness such as strep throat. Zika is transmitted through mosquitoes or through sexual transmission.
The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes (conjunctivitis). Other symptoms include muscle pain and headache.
So most of us won’t even know we have Zika or if we do, it will basically be the same as having a cold or possibly the flu for a few days.
That’s for the majority of people, but there are serious issues that can go along with some cases of Zika.
Microcephaly has been linked to the Zika virus. Microcephaly is a medical term for an abnormally small head. Between 2001 and 2014, Brazil had, on average, about 163 cases of microcephaly a year, but since 2015 things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse with more than 1,000 cases confirmed.
Zika virus can be spread to pregnant women through the bite of an infected mosquito and through sex. Pregnant women are advised to take precautions to protect themselves from Zika. Click here to learn more.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is a condition that has also been linked to Zika. GBS can affect people of any age, although rare in infants and toddlers. GBS symptoms usually begin with achiness of the muscles or burning or tingling of the feet and legs. GBS can cause the loss of the ability to walk and involve the diaphragm and breathing muscles which can be life threatening.
While microcephaly and GBS are newly linked to Zika, Dr. Whitworth says Cook Children’s has experience recognizing and treating both conditions.
“All of our neurologists are prepared to see patients with microcephaly and Guillain-Barré,” Dr. Whitworth said. “They already see these patients and have experience caring for them.”
Dr. Whitworth understands the fear of the unknown that comes with a new virus. But she says people should be diligent in protecting themselves from mosquito bites and that the CDC is monitoring the situation, as well as Tarrant County Public Health locally.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is keeping up with this on an hourly basis and monitoring this and will keep us informed,” Dr. Whitworth said. “It's important for people to remember that sexual transmission, mother to fetus and blood transfusion are the only person-to-person routes to get Zika. Currently, there's no casual contact transmission that happens person-to-person."
Previous articles on Zika:
- Should we be afraid of Zika?
- Guillain-Barré syndrome: Are you at risk?
- Zika virus confirmed in Tarrant County
- 11 facts about the Zika virus
About the source
Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D. is the medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children’s, which offers care for children and teens with diseases caused by bacteria, parasites, fungi or viruses. Our team provides a broad range of services including diagnosis, inpatient and outpatient consultations, immune deficiency evaluations and treatment of recurring infections.