— by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, HHS Secretary
If you’ve read the headlines over the past few months, you’ve probably heard about the Zika virus. You might wonder how serious the virus is and what steps you can take to help protect yourself and your family.
HHS is committed to giving the American people the tools they need to live healthy and productive lives. And information can often be one of the best tools. So I want to share with you some of the things we have learned about this virus, and what you should know.
What is Zika?
The biggest risk of Zika is to pregnant women or women of childbearing age. Zika virus can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects.
Zika can cause symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes. An illness from Zika is usually mild, and the symptoms typically will only last several days to a week. Based on previous outbreaks, approximately 80 percent of people who have Zika will not have any symptoms.
How Do I Prevent Getting Zika?
Our colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have laid out helpful prevention guidance, which you can find right here. This is particularly important if you travel to an area with active Zika transmission. It is important to remember to follow the guidance not only when you are in an area with active Zika transmission, but also for three weeks after you return.
Pregnant women should not travel to areas with active Zika transmission. If you’re pregnant and you have traveled to an area with Zika, you should visit your doctor or other health care provider as soon as possible, even if you don’t feel sick. This checklist offers some topics and questions you should bring up.
Another way you can prevent Zika is by preventing the most common way Zika spreads – mosquito bites. You can reduce your risk of being bitten by:
- Wearing long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when outside.
- Using EPA-registered insect repellents.
- Installing screens on your windows and doors.
- Emptying containers that collect water, or notifying the proper authorities if you see places where water has collected. The most common type of mosquito that spreads Zika can reproduce in as little water as a bottle cap.
What Is All This Talk About Funding?
Back in February, the Obama Administration asked Congress for $1.9 billion to fight Zika and protect pregnant women. It was a request based on the advice of our most experienced public health experts.
These funds would be used to protect pregnant women in the United States by better controlling the mosquitoes that spread Zika, by developing new tools like vaccines and better diagnostics, and by conducting crucial research so we can better understand the effects of Zika, especially on infants and children.
Congress recently left Washington without providing these additional funds. At HHS, we’re going to do everything we can to prevent, detect and respond to this virus here in the United States, and especially in hard-hit places like Puerto Rico, but hope there is action on this necessary funding as soon as the Congress returns.
How Can I Help?
We are always stronger against public health threats when we work together. So the best thing you can do right now is to make sure more people get more information on the Zika virus.
Help us reach others by sharing this blog post on Facebook and Twitter. Click the “Share” button in the top right corner of this post, or click the “Tweet This” button at the bottom.
And share this information with your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Make sure that everyone knows the risks, and how to stay safe.