What does the Zika virus mean for Chicagoans?


As of August 2016, there have been 46 cases of Zika virus identified in Illinois, all in travelers returning from tropical areas. At the present time, there are 21 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus in the U.S. All locally transmitted cases are located in the Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida. Additional information about this outbreak, including the current travel warning,  may be be found in the CDC website. 

Scientists have recently confirmed the long-speculated connection between Zika virus and birth defects. This development, along with the discovery that the virus can be shared sexually, has increased public interest in the virus in America. 

We asked Stephen Grohmann, M.D., F.A.C.P., a board-certified internal medicine physician specializing in infectious diseases, to provide an expert opinion on the subject. 

1. What are the typical symptoms of the Zika virus?

It is important to note that most individuals who are exposed to Zika virus do not become ill. Clinical manifestations of Zika virus infection occur in 20 to 25 percent of infected individuals. Symptoms and signs of Zika virus typically include acute onset of low-grade fever, rash, joint pain (notably the small joints of hands and feet) and red eyes (conjunctivitis). Other common symptoms include body aches, headache and fatigue. 

Infrequently, neurologic complications, particularly Guillain-Barre syndrome, have been reported. This is an uncommon complication that has been seen associated with other infections as well.

2. What is the risk for pregnant vs. non-pregnant adults?

Clinical manifestations of Zika virus infection in pregnant women are the same as those in non-pregnant adults. There is no evidence to suggest that pregnant women are more susceptible to Zika virus infection or experience more severe disease during pregnancy. 

The primary concern in pregnant women is the risk of fetal transmission and the possibility of birth defects. Zika infection during pregnancy has been associated with potentially serious outcomes including brain injury, fetal growth restriction and fetal death. The most common association has been microcephaly. There is ongoing investigation of the role of Zika virus in causing birth defects and the updated information is available through the CDC website and local health departments (IDPH).

3. How can you prevent the spread of this virus?

There is no vaccine for Zika virus yet. The primary prevention is to avoid travel to areas reporting high levels of Zika infection, particularly during pregnancy. Updated travel information is available on the CDC webpage.

Those who must travel should take precautions to reduce the risk of mosquito exposure by wearing long sleeves and pants, using insect repellent and staying indoors with air conditioning, window/door screens and/or mosquito nets when possible. 

There is also evidence that Zika virus may be spread through sexual contact. Men who have a pregnant partner should abstain from unprotected sex for the duration of the pregnancy. 

4. When should you get tested for the virus?

Testing for Zika virus should be considered for travelers who present with two or more symptoms of infection within two to 14 days of travel to an area where Zika virus has been reported. Asymptomatic pregnant women should be tested for Zika virus within two to 12 weeks following exposure (traveling to an endemic region).  A negative serologic test (Zika virus IgM) result obtained 2 to 12 weeks following exposure suggests that a recent infection did not occur. 

Pregnant women who test positive for Zika virus should undergo ultrasound screening for signs of fetal infection. Since other infections may mimic Zika virus—dengue, Chickungunya virus—additional testing may be considered. Health care providers should contact IDPH at 217-782-4977 for assistance with testing for Zika virus.

5. How are you treated for the virus once you are infected?

There is no specific treatment for Zika virus infection. Management consists of rest and symptomatic treatment including drinking fluids to prevent dehydration and administration of acetaminophen (Tylenol) to relieve fever and pain. The illness is usually mild; symptoms resolve within two to seven days and need for hospitalization is uncommon. 
Stephen Grohmann, M.D., F.A.C.P., is a board-certified internal medicine physician specializing in infectious diseases and a part of the medical team at Swedish Hospital . He has 25 years of experience.  

If you have any further questions regarding the Zika virus, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website

If you would like to discuss this further with a primary care physician, please visit our find a doctor page

By David Modica | Published April 29, 2016
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