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Everything a Parent Needs to Know about Zika

Everything a Parent Needs to Know about Zika
June 24
13:37 2016

We know that the mosquito-borne Zika virus can cause devastating birth defects, but what about infections in children? The facts look promising, but we still aren’t 100% sure how the disease affects children.

We do know that Zika causes mild, flu-like symptoms in adults including:

  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Red eyes

Keep in mind that some victims show no symptoms, but are still capable of spreading the virus.

So far, the above symptoms are mirrored in child victims. “There haven’t been any reports that suggest Zika causes more severe symptoms in children or infants,” says pediatric infectious disease specialist David Vu. What we don’t know is if there are any long-term effects for children and babies who catch the virus after birth. “Research on this topic is just beginning.”

Pediatric neurologist James Bale says there is no evidence that Zika can damage a child’s brain as it does a fetus’s. “The Zika virus seems to pose little or no threat to the nervous system of infants or children, when infections occur after birth.”

However, a Zika infection can lead to:

  • Encephalitis and other brain infections
  • 5x increase in the risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) – a rare neurological disorder that can case temporary and permanent paralysis

“Thus far, the vast majority of patients with Zika virus-associated GBS have been adults,” says Bale. As reported in The Lancet, doctors identified 41 cases of Zika-related GBS after a Zika outbreak in French Polynesia. The youngest patient was 26; the oldest was 42.

As reported in the journal Neuroepidemiology,your risk of developing GBS increases with age. The chance of a 40-something developing the disease is 3x that of a 9-year-old.

So far, every documented case of Zika in the United States has been imported – in other words, nobody has caught the virus from a mosquito living in the states. When it comes to children’s health during the hottest months of the year, it all depends on where you live.

The main carrier of the virus – Aedes aegypti – lives only in the southern United States. Anyone living in the upper Midwest, Pacific Northeast, and New England is safe.

The map below shows all US counties in which the A. aegypti mosquito has been found. The bug was found for only one year in yellow counties; two years in orange counties, and three or more years in red counties.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 9.41.27 PM

There is a higher chance Zika could appear this summer in areas where the mosquito is established – places like South Florida, parts of Texas, and southern Arizona. In addition to Zika, “these mosquitoes can also spread chikungunya, which can be debilitating,” says Vu.

“The risk of mosquito-borne diseases is real,” he continues. Vu advises parents to take every precaution in protecting their children from bites during the summer months. Here are a few tips:

  • Use bug repellent that contains picaridin
  • Place a mosquito net over strollers
  • See a doctor immediately if you think your child is infected

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April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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