Ben Beard, MS, PhD. Photo by CDC.

Ben Beard, MS, PhD. Photo by CDC.

The Zika virus continues to threaten public health. As of Aug. 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 10,000 cases of infection in the U.S. and U.S. territories.

APHA’s Get Ready campaign spoke to Ben Beard, MS, PhD, branch chief for CDC’s Bacterial Diseases Branch in the Division of Vector-Borne Disease at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, to discuss what Americans — including pregnant women, travelers, outdoor workers and people living in areas where Zika might be spreading — can do to protect themselves and others from infection. Dr. Beard currently serves as a deputy incident manager for CDC’s Zika response.

Read the full interview or listen to the podcast in full at Get Ready.

Now that Zika has reached Level 1 activity at CDC, in which you called a global crisis, what are the most important things for Americans to know about Zika and how to protect themselves from it?

OK, sure. Well, first of all, thanks for the opportunity to be here today and to discuss the Zika virus outbreak. I’d like to begin by elaborating quickly on what we mean by Level 1 activity for those who might not know.

This means basically CDC has activated our emergency operation center and we’re working at our highest level response to address this outbreak. We’re learning more about Zika literally every day and we’re doing everything we can to rapidly share information and adjust our guidelines for permission and our recommendations for specific audiences, including pregnant women, travellers and those who are living in areas where Zika risk occurs for local transmission.

So basically, and answering your question, there are three ways that we know, currently, that Zika spreads. The first of those is that Zika is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. The mosquitoes that spread Zika virus are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses. These mosquitoes become infected when they bite a person who’s already been infected by Zika virus. Once infected, those mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people that they bite.

Secondly, Zika can be passed through sexual contact from a person who has Zika to his or her partners. This is even if the infected person doesn’t have symptoms at the time. Thirdly, a pregnant woman can pass Zika virus to the fetuses during pregnancy or at delivery. So, consequently, it’s very important if you’re pregnant, don’t travel to a place where Zika is actively being transmitted, and if you’re pregnant and travelling to or living in a place with Zika, you should do everything you can to limit yourself from mosquito bites.

If you’re pregnant and have a partner who lives in or has travelled to an area with Zika, you should either use a condom or other barrier method every time you have sex, or not have sex during pregnancy at all. Pregnant women should talk to their health care provider about any recent travel that they or the sex partner has in areas with Zika.

Many people who have become infected with Zika virus don’t know or they don’t have symptoms. Or most of those symptoms may be mild symptoms, such as fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes that last a few days to a week. If you do have these symptoms, especially if you have recently travelled, you should see your doctor or other health care provider. If you are living in an area or travelling to an area with Zika, take steps to protect yourself, your family and your community from Zika.

Using things like preventing mosquito bites, and you can do this by wearing clothes that cover your arms and legs, using Environmental Protection Agency, EPA-registered repellents that contain active ingredients like DEET, Picaridin or IR3535.

Control mosquitoes around your home. You can do this through making sure your screens are intact on your windows and doors and once a week empty, scrub out, turn over, cover or throw out any items around your house that hold water. These are things like old tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, bird baths, flower pots or trash containers.

Plans for travel, keeping in mind what I said earlier about travel and pregnancy and the concerns about that. And one great way to do this is to check CDC’s travel notices before you travel. You can find these at the following web address: www.CDC.gov/zika. Click on the link for travellers.

Protect yourself during sex. Use condoms or other barrier methods correctly from start to finish any time you have sex to reduce the chance of getting Zika.

Finally, if you have Zika, you can prevent further spread of Zika by taking these same prevention measures. Does that make sense?