3 Zika Virus Facts Pharmacists Should Share with Patients


A new poll suggests that Americans have some awareness of the Zika virus, but there's still more work to be done in educating the public, especially regarding transmission.

A new poll suggests that Americans have some awareness of the Zika virus, but there’s still more work to be done in educating the public, especially regarding transmission.

The HealthDay/Harris Poll asked more than 2000 adults in May 2016 about the Zika virus. Age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, and income were weighted in some circumstances to better represent actual proportions in the general public.

The good news is that the majority of adults knew some general information about the virus, mosquitoes, and pregnant women. Around 75% knew that Zika was mainly transmitted via mosquitoes, and nearly 85% of the respondents knew pregnant women were especially vulnerable.

The poll-takers were also aware of basic ways to protect themselves from contracting Zika from a mosquito bite, such as using insect repellant and wearing long-sleeved clothing.

Around 44% of the poll-takers said they believed that it was at least somewhat likely that the virus would infect individuals in their region in the next few years.

Here are 3 facts pharmacists should share with patients to raise awareness about Zika:

1. Patients can be infected with Zika through sexual transmission.

Only 45% of the poll participants knew this was a possible way to contract Zika.

Jeffrey S. Duchin, MD, health officer and chief of the Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization Section, Public Health for Seattle and King County, and professor in medicine in the Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington, told Pharmacy Times that this particular lack of awareness is the biggest concern.

“It’s important for everyone to know that pregnant women can get Zika from mosquito bites if they travel to a Zika-affected area and that pregnant women can get Zika infection even if they have not traveled if their male sexual partners have been to a Zika-affected area,” Dr. Duchin said.

Jeff Goad, PharmD, MPH, a professor at Chapman University School of Pharmacy, told Pharmacy Times that sexual transmission of Zika will be a concern at the Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this summer.

Athletes and fans at the Olympics should consider using barrier contraception, such as condoms, to prevent transmission. In addition, anyone who travels to Brazil or other Zika-affected areas should get checked out by their physician if they experience symptoms like fever or achy joints.

2. Zika infection can cause a variety of health problems, especially in babies.

Only 57% of the poll-takers knew that the virus could cause brain damage in babies born to infected women, and only 48% knew that a fetus could contract Zika from his or her mother.

“Pharmacists should take every opportunity to counsel patients who are traveling about the risk of Zika virus (and other travel-associated infections) and for pregnant women to postpone travel to Zika-affected areas,” Dr. Duchin said. “Pharmacists can also educate pregnant women about Zika risks from both travel and sex with a partner who has traveled.”

In addition, the poll showed that only 30% of participants knew Zika could cause fever, 20% knew rash was a symptom, and 18% knew those infected with Zika could experience joint pain.

In most cases, no specific treatment is needed to cure Zika, according to Dr. Duchin. Still, pharmacists can recommend that infected patients take acetaminophen for fever.

Pharmacists should also remind patients that the majority of infected patients (80%) won’t show any symptoms at all, and those who do get sick generally have mild symptoms.

Dr. Goad compared getting bit by a mosquito infected with Zika with a game of roulette. The odds are stacked against you in “winning,” which in this case means contracting the virus.

Dr. Goad recommended calming patients down if they suspect that they have Zika.

“Just because you got a mosquito bite does not mean you have some exotic infection,” Dr. Goad said.

3. There’s still no vaccine for Zika virus.

Nearly 40% of the poll-takers thought a vaccine was either very effective or somewhat effective in protecting against Zika, but in reality, no vaccine is available at this time.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said research teams have been encouraged to develop and test Zika vaccines. Other viruses like dengue and West Nile may provide clues into how to approach a Zika vaccine.

The FDA did recently approve Quest Diagnostics’ Zika Virus RNA Qualitative Real-Time RT-PCR test, which can be used to detect RNA from the Zika virus in human serum specimens.

“Patients should be directed to see a health care provider for possible testing if they have been to a Zika-affected area and have symptoms within 2 weeks of return,” Dr. Duchin advised.

Dr. Goad highlighted that routine testing isn’t needed at this time for pregnant women who have traveled abroad.

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