Understanding the Zika virus

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Maddox
  • 66th Medical Clinic Public Health
If you have been watching the news recently you may have seen reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention about the emerging mosquito-borne illness called the Zika virus.

The Department of Health and Human Services, through the CDC, is leading the U.S. response to the worldwide Zika outbreak with support from multiple other U.S. federal departments and agencies, including Department of Defense.

The DOD Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch sends updated guidance to Public Health every month. The military is a mobile population; we deploy, transfer to new assignments, perform temporary duty and travel for vacation all over the globe.

The Air Force is closely monitoring the emergence of Zika virus infection to help inform and protect Airmen and their families.


The emergence of Zika virus infection can be found in: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, U.S. Virgin Islands and Venezuela. 


Humans become infected by Zika virus primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. Only about one in five persons infected with Zika virus becomes ill.


Symptoms may include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eye), muscle pain and headache. Most infections are mild, lasting several days to a week, with complete recovery the norm, according to CDC.

There is new evidence of a potential link between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and a particular birth defect.


The CDC recently advised women who are pregnant to consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing, and women who are trying to get pregnant should consult their healthcare provider before traveling. So far, the few Zika virus infections diagnosed in the continental United States have occurred in travelers to countries or territories with ongoing Zika virus spread, according to CDC, and there has not been local Zika infections spread by mosquitoes in CONUS.


The best way to prevent infection from the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne viruses, such as dengue and chikungunya, is to prevent mosquito bites by using air conditioning or window and door screens when indoors, wearing long sleeves and pants, using permethrin-treated clothing and gear, and using insect repellents when outdoors. When used according to product label, insect repellents registered by the Environmental Protection Agency are safe to use by pregnant women and children.

To prevent sexually transmitted Zika infection, according to the CDC, men who live in or have traveled to an area with Zika infection and who have a pregnant partner should abstain from sexual activity or consistently and correctly use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy.

There is no vaccine to prevent or medication to treat the Zika virus.

For further information, contact Hanscom Public Health at 781-225-6295 or visit www.cdc.gov/zika.

(Editor's note: Portions of this article were provided by Air Force Medical Service Public Affairs, Department of Defense Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.)