Information That Triage Nurses Can Give to Patients Concerned with Zika Virus
When patients are made aware of a virus such as Zika, they usually become anxious and fearful. More often than not, they end up calling doctors’ offices with questions and concerns. As such, triage nurses should be prepared to receive some of these calls. They need to be well informed about the illness in order to answer their patients’ questions and alleviate their fears. The following information will help triage nurses to properly achieve their care goals:
What is it?
Zika is a disease that is caused by the Zika virus. It is a mosquito-borne illness that is related to dengue fever, yellow fever, and West Nile virus.
Who is at risk?
Fetuses are especially at risk when it comes to the Zika virus. It is possible that the Zika virus is a risk factor for microcephaly, a condition where a baby’s head is smaller than normal. Microcephaly is a serious birth defect that can lead to lifelong problems such as an underdeveloped brain, vision loss, seizures, and learning disabilities.
Where is it found?
Prior to 2015, Zika virus was found in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. However, in May 2015, the first confirmed case of Zika was reported in Brazil. Since then, the virus has spread throughout the Americas, and there are currently outbreaks in many countries such as Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, and Venezuela. There have been no locally-acquired cases in the United States, but 52 travel-associated cases have been reported since February 10, 2016.
How is it transmitted?
Zika virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitos are aggressive daytime biters (but they also bite at night). They feed both indoors and outdoors near dwellings. A mosquito becomes infected when it feeds on a person that is already infected with the virus. That infected mosquito will then spread the virus to other people when it feeds again. Zika virus can also be spread from an already infected mother to her child near the time of delivery, although this method of transmission is rare. It is also possible that the Zika virus can be passed from mother to child in utero. Studies are currently being conducted to learn more about this possible method of transmission. Other reported methods of transmission do not include breastfeeding, but do include blood transfusions and sexual contact.
What are its symptoms?
The vast majority of people infected with the Zika virus never exhibit any symptoms. Only about 1 in 5 people that get infected actually become ill (i.e., develop Zika). The disease’s incubation period is not known, but those who develop Zika likely begin to show symptoms a few days to a week after becoming infected. These symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain, and headache. Overall, Zika is a mild illness that lasts for several days to a week. It usually doesn’t require hospitalization, and it is rarely fatal.
How is it diagnosed?
People that develop symptoms and have visited an area where the Zika virus is found should see a healthcare provider. Specialized blood tests will be ordered to look for the virus and possibly rule out other similar viruses such as dengue or chikungunya.
How is it treated?
There is no vaccine for Zika, and there are no specific medicines to treat it. The best course of action is to treat the symptoms of Zika. These treatments include getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids to prevent dehydration, and taking medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) to relieve fever and pain. It is also important to note that people should not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. This is a necessary precaution to reduce the risk of hemorrhage until dengue can be ruled out by a blood test.
How is it prevented?
The best way to prevent Zika is to avoid mosquito bites. When traveling to countries where the Zika virus is found, people should take some precautions. These precautions include wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, staying in places with air conditioning, staying in places that use window and door screens, using mosquito nets when sleeping outside, and using EPA-registered insect repellants (which are proven safe and effective when used as directed). Pregnant women should also take some special precautions. They should consider postponing travel to any area where the Zika virus is found. If a postponement is not possible, they should consult a healthcare provider before traveling.