Read our Q&A on lessons learned from the Zika response
Zika virus is primarily spread through mosquito bites. Most people infected with Zika do not show any symptoms, though about 1 in 5 experience fever, red eyes, rashes, body aches and headaches. The sickness is usually mild with symptoms lasting several days to a week. In some rare cases, health researchers have found links to much more serious conditions associated with Zika.
The virus can cause microcephaly, which severely limits brain development among fetuses and newborns, and other serious birth defects. Zika is also linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition that damages the nervous system. Health experts indicate there is still much to learn about the virus, how it is spread and its health risks.
We have known about Zika for decades when outbreaks occurred in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Concern grew in 2015 when the first confirmed infection was reported in Brazil. Cases have since spread to many other countries, including the U.S. and its territories. Puerto Rico has reported the most cases, while local transmission of the virus also has been reported in Florida.
The virus is mostly spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. A pregnant woman can pass on the infection to her fetus during pregnancy or around birth, and a person infected with Zika can pass along the illness to his or her sex partners. There is also a strong possibility the virus can spread through blood transfusions.
Public health response
The public health response the outbreak focuses on preventing transmission, supporting affected families and containing the virus to areas where it is present. Other efforts include disease surveillance, laboratory diagnosis and mosquito control.
A major concern has been a lack of funding to adequately respond to Zika in the United States. APHA and partners have been urging a robust Zika response. As APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, said about Congress in this POLITICO article, "We shouldn’t have to continue to chase diseases that threaten us. They’re not behaving like this is a real threat to the public."
In the USA Today article "Zika could hit people in poverty hardest," Benjamin says something as simple as insect repellent is "a luxury for some people." Benjamin also is quoted in the Governing Magazine articles "Congressional Inaction Hinders Public Health Fight Against Zika" and "Simple Steps Should Stop Zika From Spreading in the U.S."
Fortunately, Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed a measure allocating $1.1 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus. The funding will support our public health workforce, strengthen prevention efforts, enhance laboratory capacity and meet the needs of affect families.
In this Q&A with APHA's Public Health Newswire, the editor of "Control of Communicable Diseases Manual" talks about the new CCDM chapter on Zika and the outlook for controlling the virus. David Heymann calls the Zika outbreak and its link to birth defects "among the most troubling developments of the early 21st Century." And Ben Beard, branch chief for CDC’s Bacterial Diseases Branch in the Division of Vector-Borne Disease at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, shares tips on what we can do to protect ourselves and each other.
Zika Preparedness and Response: A Public Health and Legal Perspective (webinar)
"Zika virus: What's the buzz?" (APHA Storify)
Our action alerts and advocacy letters encouraged Congress to act, and the Wisconsin Public Health Association and Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards wrote to Speaker Paul Ryan urging for emergency Zika funding. (PDF)