Zika Virus: What Student Pharmacists Should Know

Those preparing to travel for spring break may approach student pharmacists with questions about the Zika virus.

Those preparing to travel for spring break may approach student pharmacists with questions about the Zika virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued a global public health emergency regarding the Zika virus. This is only the fourth time such action has been taken, following Ebola, H1N1, and polio.

In addition, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that 52 travel-associated Zika virus cases have been reported within the United States as of February 10, 2016.

As patients continue to see Zika reports by the media, it is our responsibility as student pharmacists to offer patient education and resources.

With customers starting to prepare for spring break and summer vacations—oftentimes to tropical destinations—we need to be prepared to discuss the topic and make recommendations. The goal is to provide effective patient counseling while relaying accurate information about the virus.

Here are few questions student pharmacists should be ready to answer regarding the Zika virus:

What is Zika and how do I get it?

The virus is primarily spread through Aedes aegypti mosquito bites. The spread of the virus from mother to child during pregnancy is rare, and reports of sexual transmission are being investigated.

An individual can contract the Zika virus when traveling to a country with an active outbreak or by being sexually active with someone who recently contracted it.

Can the virus be contracted in the United States?

The current confirmed US Zika cases are related to individuals who have recently traveled to countries with a current outbreak. As of February 10, 2016, there have been no reported cases of individuals bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and contracting the virus while in the United States.

What can I do to prevent it?

If your patients are traveling to locations with confirmed ongoing virus transmission, they should take the some precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

For instance, the CDC recommends:

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Staying in places with air conditioning and door screens to keep mosquitos outside
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellant

Furthermore, a travel alert has been issued advising pregnant women to avoid countries with confirmed ongoing Zika virus transmission. Current trends show that women who contract the virus during pregnancy have an increased chance of having a child with the birth defect congenital microcephaly.

Microcephaly is a condition in which a baby’s skull and brain are smaller than the average size for babies of the same sex and age. Women who are actively trying to become pregnant should consult with a health provider and take necessary precautions.

What happens if I contract Zika?

There is no vaccine or antiviral regimen for the Zika virus. The virus is self-limiting, and 80% of patients never have symptoms.

Among those who do, symptoms typically consist of fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The WHO recommends that patients get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.

Pain and fever should be treated with acetaminophen products. Aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may have an increased risk for bleeding, especially if the patient is diagnosed with dengue, a virus very similar to Zika.

Zika-related hospitalization is uncommon.

If a patient has additional questions, recommend that they speak to the pharmacist on duty or another health care professional. Patients can also receive up-to-date information about the virus and the countries with ongoing transmissions from the CDC and WHO websites.