HOUSTON --With 12 confirmed cases, Houston's Harris county has more reports of the Zika virus than any other county in the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Despite growing concerns about the virus, there are still plenty of misconceptions surfacing in public discourse.
Despite devastating images of babies with Microcephaly, infants with abnormally small heads and brain damage, a poll from Harvard University found a full 20 percent of Americans don't even realize the virus is connected to the horrific birth defects.
For researchers, there are still plenty of unanswered questions, particularly when it comes to the virus' long-term impact.
"There are many viruses that cause disease in people -- this is one that's actually gotten a lot of my attention," said Dr. Kristy Murray.
The associate professor of pediatric tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and practitioner with Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, Murray is working with a team to find out how Zika can be easily detected and prevented.
What researchers do know is that the virus is transmitted to humans either through the bite of an infected mosquito or through sexual transmission from an infected person.
"If you have a husband or partner that travels to these areas where Zika is an epidemic, then I would be very concerned," Murray said. "Eighty percent of people infected have no symptoms at all, so a person coming back from these areas may have no idea they are infected."
Murray says men can pass along the infection through sexual contact for up to two months.
There isn't a vaccine for Zika yet. Researchers say that could take a year or two. Congress has been working to approve funding to further Zika research and efforts to develop a vaccine. The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston has been contracted by the country of Brazil to develop a vaccine where Zika has already rapidly spread.
One of the most dangerous misconceptions researchers say is the belief nothing can be done to prevent the spread of Zika. Murray offered a few common sense tips including protective clothing, repellents and avoiding the outdoors between dusk and dawn.
Researchers say most importantly, Gulf Coast residents should make every effort to protect the local mosquito population, especially if they've been out of the country traveling. Murray says Houston may have the kind of mosquitoes that can transmit Zika, but they're not carrying it just yet.
"We don't want our resident mosquitoes to pick up the virus and start transmitting here," said Murray.
All important warnings given the devastating consequences of an outbreak.
"It's really sad, really, really sad to see the effect its had on these women, their babies," she said. "It's incredibly hard to see it."
Murray recommends a repellent with DEET like OFF! Deep Woods for adults and travel to other countries. A natural option, like Skeeter Screen, is her go-to for babies and children.
- What to know about Zika from the CDC
- Texas' confirmed Zika cases from Texas Department of State Health Services
- Dr. Kristy Murray's blog about Zika
- OFF! Deep Woods(Dr. Murray's recommendation for adults and travelers)
- Skeeter Screen (Dr. Murray's recommendation for babies and children)
Zika symptoms diagnosis and treatment from the CDC
- About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill (i.e., develop Zika).
- The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.
- The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
- Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days but it can be found longer in some people.
- Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.
- Deaths are rare.
- The symptoms of Zika are similar to those of dengue and chikungunya, diseases spread through the same mosquitoes that transmit Zika.
- See your healthcare provider if you develop the symptoms described above and have visited an area where Zika is found.
- If you have recently traveled, tell your healthcare provider when and where you traveled.
- Your healthcare provider may order blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viruses like dengue or chikungunya.
- No vaccine or medications are available to prevent or treat Zika infections.
Treat the symptoms:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink fluids to prevent dehydration
- Take medicines, such as acetaminophen or paracetamol, to relieve fever and pain
- Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen. Aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of hemorrhage (bleeding). If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.
- If you have Zika, avoid mosquito bites for the first week of your illness.
- During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites.
Lastly, if you are experiencing an issue with mosquitoes, you can make a service request report: www.brazoriacountytx.gov