Zika Virus Information for Nurses

by Howard Gerber on September 8, 2016

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zika virus infoYou don’t have to be a nurse to be concerned about the Zika virus. It seems that the virus is making headlines more frequently, and nurses are on the frontlines of the emerging health issue, both as caregivers and potential patients. If you’re a nurse traveler, you might wonder if you should avoid taking assignments to certain states due to the risk of contracting Zika.

Researchers are still finding out new information about Zika, but some facts are known. As a nurse, it’s helpful to become educated on the Zika virus so you can provide the most accurate information to your patients and keep yourself safe as well. Consider the following questions and answers regarding Zika.  

How is Zika transmitted?

Most commonly, the Zika virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research also indicates that Zika can be transmitted through sexual contact. It appears that men infected with Zika may be able to transmit it to their partners. Pregnant women can also pass the virus to their unborn baby.

Does everyone who becomes infected get sick?

Most people who become infected with Zika do not develop symptoms. In fact, many people may not know they have been infected. The CDC estimates that only about one in five people who are infected develop symptoms.

What are the symptoms of Zika virus?

The symptoms of Zika are often mild. They typically only last a few days to about a week. Symptoms may include joint pain, fever and rash. Some people also develop muscle pain, headache, and conjunctivitis.

Does Zika cause birth defects?

If a woman contracts the Zika virus during pregnancy, it can lead to pregnancy loss or severe birth defects. One of the birth defects associated with Zika is microcephaly, which involves brain damage and small head development, and is associated with a very poor quality of life.

What is the treatment for Zika?

There is no specific treatment for Zika. Since symptoms are usually mild, antiviral medications are not typically prescribed. Home treatment including rest, plenty of fluids and over the counter fever reducers are often recommended.

Are there regions of the country you should avoid?

Zika is spread by mosquitoes in the Aedes genus. This genus of mosquito is found in the United States, most commonly along the Gulf Coast and in Florida. If you are a nurse traveler and are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider about accepting a travel assignment in those areas.

How can you protect yourself against Zika?

Currently, there is no vaccine to protect against Zika. There are still things you can do to protect yourself until a vaccine is developed.If you’re spending time outside in an area known to have cases of Zika, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Apply insect repellent when going outdoors. Empty freestanding water in buckets and flower pots around your home.

If you are caring for a patient with Zika, your risk of becoming infected in low. However, since nurses often have contact with body fluids including blood, it’s important to use standard precautions. Keep in mind that information about Zika is still emerging, and the virus is not fully understood. Although it does not appear to be transmitted through droplets, nurses should be diligent about using universal persecutions.

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