The Facts Regarding the Zika Virus

Photo: Dr. Bankole Asebiomo is an infectious diseases specialist with Affinity Clinic

A local physician specializing in infectious diseases said the mosquito-carrying Zika virus will continue to occur in small localized outbreaks, but the chances of a widespread epidemic in the U.S. are minimal.  

“With the recent developments south of the border, the number of Zika virus disease cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States will likely increase,” said Dr. Bankole Asebiomo with Affinity Clinic in Tifton. “These imported cases may result in a spread of the virus in certain pockets of the U.S., but it should not be as widespread as it has been in certain Latin American countries.”

Dr. Asebiomo, with expertise in infectious diseases and travel medicine, said the reason the spread of the Zika virus in the U.S. won’t be as profound is because of factors such as better overall housing construction within the nation, more prevalent use of window and door screens as well as state and local mosquito control efforts. 

“Those more at risk of contracting Zika include anyone traveling to an area where the Zika virus is found, such as certain countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean,” said Dr. Asebiomo. “"There's a travel advisory to these areas and pregnant women are advised to postpone their visits until after delivery of their babies. Women trying to become pregnant or who are thinking about becoming pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas."

Dr. Asebiomo said the Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. About one in five people infected with Zika will get sick. For people who get sick, the illness is usually mild. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms typically begin two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

While Zika is mainly transmitted by infected mosquitoes, a sexually-transmitted case has been reported in Texas. Dr. Asebiomo said this a rarity in the spread of the virus, but the CDC is advising pregnant women to use proper sexual protection or refrain from having sex if their male sexual partner has traveled to or lives in a country where Zika virus is circulating. Zika can be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth. There have been reports of Zika causing a birth defect called microcephaly for certain pregnant women. 

Brazil, which has seen one the biggest outbreaks of Zika, has also reported a concurrent increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) cases, which is a rare disorder where a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes, paralysis. These symptoms can last a few weeks or several months. While most people fully recover from GBS, some people have permanent damage and in rare cases, people have died.

“Knowledge regarding the link between Zika and conditions such as microcephaly and GBS is still evolving,” said Dr. Asebiomo.  

There is currently no vaccine to prevent Zika. “The best way to prevent diseases spread by mosquitoes is to avoid being bitten,” said Dr. Asebiomo. “Protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants; stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside; use proper insect repellents; and, sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.”

Visit www.cdc.gov/zika for more information including a full-list of countries with travel advisories regarding the Zika virus. 

Dr. Asebimo practices with Affinity Clinic and is a member of the Tift Regional Health System medical staff. After earning his medical degree from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, Dr. Asebiomo completed residency training in internal medicine at Columbia University/Harlem Hospital in New York, NY and a fellowship in infectious diseases at Georgia Regents University in Augusta. To make an appointment with Dr. Asebiomo, call 229-391-4100. Affinity Clinic is located in Tifton at 2225 Highway 41 North.