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Nursing and the Zika Virus

Written by Rose Torrento on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 Posted in Industry News

Nursing and the Zika Virus

Every few years, we see another dangerous and potentially fatal disease spread panic across the world as doctors and scientists race to find a treatment or vaccine before a pandemic occurs. And though modern medicine seems to win out every time, all of us — in particular, those of us working in the medical industry — need to be well-aware of how these viruses work, how to treat them, and how to prevent contraction in our patients and ourselves.

Experts at the Centers for Disease Control are now occupied with Zika — a virus that was first discovered in Uganda in 1947 and was declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization in February 2016, following an outbreak in Brazil, according to the CDC website.

This virus is particularly dangerous to pregnant women, causing birth defects and even microcephaly resulting in death, according to a Time magazine article. It is currently spreading throughout several South American countries and has been reported in the U.S.

As a travel nurse who may be working in a vulnerable country or with patients and staff who have been exposed, what do you need to know? Let's review the basics so you can be sure to protect yourself and your patients.

Zika virus infographic poster


According to the CDC, the Zika virus is difficult to monitor because the symptoms can be hidden or seen as evidence of another virus. Often, many people won't know that they have contracted the virus before spreading it to others. However, the standard reported symptoms include:

  • Acute onset fever
  • Maculopapular rash
  • Arthralgia (joint pains)
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)

Potential birth defects

Research on Zika is still in its infancy and thus incomplete; however, according to the CDC, effects of the virus on a fetus could include the following:

  • Brain abnormalities
  • Congenital contractures
  • Clubfoot
  • Gulliain-Barre disease
  • Fetal microcephaly
  • Intracranial calcifications

Contraction methods

According to the Time interview with CDC Director Tom Freiden, the virus appears to be contractible through a bite from an infected mosquito or via sexual activity. There are only 84 travel-associated cases reported at this point. However, anyone involved in world travel who is pregnant — or is in a sexual relationship with someone who is pregnant — is advised to take precautions.

Making a diagnosis

As a travel nurse, you will want to know what symptoms to look for and which questions to ask so you can catch potential cases of Zika early on. Because this virus is so dangerous for pregnant women, CDC experts emphasize the importance of asking pregnant patients about their recent travel activities, particularly to areas like South America where transmission is documented.

As always, ask about the patient's symptoms and compare them with the above list of Zika symptoms. If a pregnant patient has traveled recently, be diligent in your analysis of her ultrasound for indications of fetal microcephaly or intracranial calcifications. If something is found, test for the Zika virus.

Prevention techniques

In an article for Time, writer Alexandra Sifferlin discusses prevention techniques recommended by the CDC. Some suggestions include:

  • Wear permethrin-treated clothing.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay inside when possible and use mosquito nets outside.
  • Empty standing water from containers.
  • Use a condom during sexual intercourse.

Though any one person's chances of contracting the Zika virus are relatively low, precautions are still necessary, particularly for pregnant women and those working in health care environments.

Questions about the Zika virus or your personal health care benefits? Contact us online or give us a call at (888) 299-9800.

About the Author

Rose Torrento

Rose Torrento

Rosemarie Torrento has worked in health care for more than 26 years, beginning as a registered nurse in 1988. Early in her nursing career, Torrento worked as a freelance contract nurse before accepting a position in nursing administration. During her 17-year tenure in that role, she oversaw nursing employment and travel nurse contracting at a Level 1 Trauma Hospital in Michigan. Understanding the challenges travel nurses faced, Torrento founded Health Providers Choice Inc. (HPC) in 2003. Through Torrento’s extensive experience and her role as President and CEO, HPC provides travel placement of registered nurses and allied health professionals to hospital systems nationally.