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Zika virus: What does it mean for me?

By now, you’ve probably heard a lot of news about the Zika virus – babies being born with a smaller than normal head, El Salvador telling its citizens not to have babies for two years, and the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the Zika virus a public health emergency. If you’re scared about Zika, you’re not alone! The health information about Zika has caused worry and fear worldwide.

At HLM, we’re passionate about helping people understand health information and make good decisions. So here we’re going to help you understand the basics of the Zika virus, what it means for you, and give you some tips to lower your chance of getting Zika.

What is Zika Virus?

The Zika virus is an infection spread by infected mosquito bites. The most commons symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. These symptoms can last for several days to a week. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. Areas affected with Zika include countries in the Caribbean, Central America, South America and the Pacific Islands.

Why is Zika thought to be bad for pregnant women?

To date, no vaccine exists to prevent getting sick from the Zika virus. A pregnant woman who is infected with Zika can pass it on to her fetus. Researchers believe Zika may cause babies to be born with damaged brains and smaller than normal heads (called “microcephaly”).

How can I stay safe from Zika?

Everybody traveling to or living in an area affected with Zika should take steps to protect themselves. Health agencies recommend that pregnant women, as well as men and women planning on getting pregnant be extra cautious. Take the following steps to stay safe from Zika:

(1) Get your information from credible sources We get information from many sources, and each source has its own motivation to share information: Is the source spreading a rumor? Simply providing information? Selling a product? Promoting a political position? Most credible sources will refer to experts on the topic, like doctors, nurses, and others who work in the health field. Typically, websites from health care organizations (.org), government agencies (.gov), or educational institutions (.edu) are the most reliable for health information. 

(2) Talk to your doctor if: 

  • You are planning to travel to an affected area

  • You recently traveled to or lived in an affected area

  • You recently traveled to an affected area and develop Zika symptoms: fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. If you get Zika, the CDC also recommends you abstain from sex or use condoms to avoid spreading the virus.

  • You are pregnant and you or your partner recently traveled to an affected area, even if you don’t feel sick

(3) Prevent mosquito bites:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Light colors are preferred to see mosquitos better.

  • Use bug spray with DEET to keep mosquitos away.

  • You can search for insect repellents approved by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in this website

  • Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep  mosquitoes outside.

  • Sleep under mosquito nets if you have no other way to protect yourself, especially during the day.

  • Still worried? Don’t panic! Instead, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can answer questions and give you up-to-date information.

Learn more

  • Zika Virus Q & A (WHO Website)

  • Zika Virus and Pregnancy (CDC)

  • Affected areas (CDC)

  • Information for travelers visiting Zika affected countries (WHO website)

  • How to prevent mosquito bites (CDC)


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