US Pharm. 2016;41(6):5.
Given the current clamor about the Zika virus, there is pressing need for reliable information on the disease to quell people’s anxiety and clear up the cloud of confusion swirling around this insect-borne malady. Enter the pharmacist. As one of the most trusted healthcare professionals, pharmacists are also among the most potent weapons against Zika’s spread. As I have written many times before, pharmacists are an ideal conduit for conveying authoritative information and alleviating anxiety through counseling their patients.
A cloak of mystery seems to envelop the Zika virus. Though indigenous to such warm regions as Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and South America, the type of mosquito that spreads the virus is also present in parts of the United States. Transmission of the virus occurs when this mosquito bites an infected individual and subsequently bites a healthy person. Healthcare officials also advise that Zika infection can be spread by sexual contact with an infected individual.
According to the CDC, most people infected with the Zika virus will be asymptomatic and thus not even know that they have the disease. Should symptoms occur, fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis are the most common. Other signs include muscle pain and headache. Although it is not known for certain, the incubation period for Zika virus disease is likely to be a few days to a week, say researchers.
The CDC recommends that pregnant women see their doctor if they develop a fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes within several weeks after traveling to a region where Zika has been reported. The illness resulting from Zika infection is usually mild for the mother, with symptoms persisting for several days to a week.
There is certainly precedent for government-sponsored campaigns to educate the public about health issues affecting the unborn. It’s nearly impossible, for example, to miss the ubiquitous warnings on alcohol and tobacco labels advising expectant mothers about the dangers to the fetus if they drink or smoke during their pregnancy.
In the same vein, pharmacists can counsel pregnant women that the Zika virus can cause microcephaly—a birth defect that results in a smaller-than-normal head size—in their unborn child. Pregnant women, healthcare officials caution, should also avoid traveling to areas where the virus is actively spreading,
Looking ahead, U.S. Pharmacist will publish an article next month that examines the available insect repellants with efficacy against the mosquito carrying the Zika virus, and we plan an article covering the impact of Zika on the unborn offspring of pregnant women in our Women’s Health focus issue in September. We also published a Patient Teaching Aid about microcephaly in our May issue. For expectant females, microcephaly is a huge concern given its deleterious impact on the child and the whole family.
The upcoming 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are also highlighting the health scare brought on by Zika infection. The games take place in the region that is a hotbed of mosquito activity, and a large-scale infection could erupt among the visiting throngs. Once the Olympic flame is extinguished on the Rio Games, however, robust funding for education to increase awareness would keep the Zika threat top of mind and help limit its spread. Congress should allocate sufficient financial resources to support a vigorous educational campaign about the infection, in part through pamphlets and other pharmacy-dedicated signage.
As my college-aged daughter prepares for a month-long mission trip to Central America, I trust that she will take all prudent steps to protect herself against Zika virus infection. With the help of pharmacists across the country, I am confident that the good counsel they deliver will safeguard scores of other potential targets of Zika’s carriers.
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