Communicating With Patients About Zika

Keep Your Patients and Practice Safe 

By Debra A. Cooper, RN, MSN, MBA/HCM, CIC, CPHRM, Coverys Senior Risk Specialist

The following blog post is part two of a three-part comprehensive series on how to keep your patients and practice safe during the Zika outbreak. Be sure to also read part one about how to recognize and respond to Zika, and part three about how to reduce risk to healthcare workers and stay abreast of the latest Zika news.

What to Tell Your Patients
While the CDC and others believe the 2016 Zika outbreak is concerning, it’s also believed that the best thing to do is educate yourself and your patients. Knowledge is, after all, power. Whether or not your patient population includes women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you and your patients should be aware of the risks and how some very simple steps can prevent infection or its spread. 

There are perhaps three things you should ensure that your patients know:
  1. In a world with Zika, mosquito repellent spray is no longer just about your comfort ― it’s about your health. At the time of this writing, there were 30 states in the U.S. that have the two types of mosquitoes that are capable of transmitting this virus. Preventing mosquito bites is key to the health of you and your loved ones, because you may not know if the mosquito in your area is one of the two types of mosquitos capable of carrying the virus. And there are many EPA-registered mosquito sprays that are safe for children as well as for pregnant and breastfeeding women. You can access an online list of brands deemed safe by the EPA. In addition to using mosquito repellent, people should take extra measures to stay inside, stay covered, and stay away from areas of standing water.
  2. All types of sex with an infected individual may put you at risk. We’re learning more about Zika and its transmission all the time, but it appears that the Zika virus can be transmitted through various bodily fluids, so sex with someone who has been diagnosed with Zika or who has traveled to an area with known Zika transmission is always a risk factor. And while using condoms or other barriers as protection is key, even protected sex of any kind (genital, anal, or oral) with an infected partner puts a patient at risk.
  3. Travel to certain areas can put you at significant risk. Pregnant women should not, unless they absolutely must, travel to areas of active Zika outbreak. And couples who are interested in conceiving who don’t reside in an area with active Zika virus but had a possible exposure to the virus should: a) wait at least eight weeks after symptom onset to have sex and attempt conception, and b) wait at least eight weeks after the last date of exposure before having sex and attempting conception. And it’s important to remember that areas of concern are no longer just in far-away places like South America. At the time of the writing of this article, local transmissions have been reported in several Florida counties. As of August 31, 2016, a total of 35 cases of local transmission of Zika infection had been reported in these Florida counties.

Want to know more about how to prepare and respond to Zika? Be sure to read parts one and three of this three-part series on Zika virus.

No legal or medical advice intended. This post includes general risk management guidelines. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal or medical developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal or medical advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. 

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