Managing Treatments

What Is the Zika Virus? And Other Questions for Cancer Patients

If you have cancer, you may wonder what is the zika virus and is it something you should be concerned about. Zika virus is transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes. The disease usually causes mild symptoms, if any.

Zika virus is all over the news lately, and as a person with cancer, you may be wondering how this affects you. You’ve probably heard about the risks of the virus to pregnant women, who can transmit it to her baby. Zika has been linked to microcephaly in infants born to a mother who had the virus. For most adults, however, the virus is mild.

Common Questions about Zika

What Is the Zika Virus?

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness, similar to dengue. In addition to microcephaly, Zika has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, in a very small number of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How Is Zika Spread?

The primary way Zika gets transmitted is through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The virus can also be sexually transmitted or passed from a mother to her fetus.

What Is the Risk of Getting Zika in the United States?

The threat in the United States is still fairly low, especially in areas with cooler climates. According to the CDC, less than 200 locally acquired cases have been reported in the U.S. in 2016. That means that the majority of cases of the virus diagnosed in the country have come from people who traveled to a place with an active outbreak and brought the virus back with them. In fact, warmer climates, like Southern Florida, have higher instances of mosquitoes infected with the virus. Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) lifted zika’s emergency status and moved it into a category of long-term and sustained infection management. This means that the strategy for managing the virus and complications related to the virus will shift from an emergency response to a long-term strategy.

What Are Symptoms of Zika?

For adults who aren’t pregnant and aren’t trying to become pregnant soon, the Zika virus is mild. Most people won’t have any symptoms, but if you do they can include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. Symptoms last for a few days to a week. Rest, fluids and over-the-counter pain relievers are usually enough to get you through.

How Can You Prevent Zika?

The best way to prevent the disease is to avoid travel to areas with an active outbreak and to prevent mosquito bites. Use insect repellent when spending time outside, and wear long pants and long sleeves when you can. Also, use protection when having sex with someone who recently traveled to an area with an active outbreak. There’s no vaccine yet available for the virus, although the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is conducting early-stage vaccine trials.

What Should Cancer Patients Do?

There isn’t much known about the Zika virus in people with cancer or other people with compromised immune systems, according to a report in the Journal of Global Oncology. It would be best to avoid travel to areas with an active outbreak, such as South America. Consult with your medical team before making any decisions, however. Many symptoms of Zika can resemble symptoms related to cancer treatment. As OncoLink points out, since cancer treatment can weaken your immune system, it’s best to stay on top of your health and talk to your doctor about any concerns with Zika and other conditions. Your doctor will help you manage symptoms and keep an eye on any complications.

In general, you have more pressing concerns to worry about than Zika as you go through cancer treatment. Keep an eye on all your symptoms and stay in close communication with your doctor, nurse or patient navigator about any new symptoms you have. As with any major health concern, stay informed about Zika virus developments and educate yourself on the basic precautions to prevent the virus.

The best way to stay on top of your health and potential risks to it is to see a doctor regularly.

Learn More
Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney