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What is Zika Virus and can pets get it?

            Zika virus was first identified in 1947 in Uganda’s Zika Forest. If you’re wondering, “Zika” means “overgrown”. When scientists initially stumbled upon this stubborn mosquito-bite fever, they largely discounted it as a serious threat because the majority of victims (80%) did NOT develop significant illness.

            Those that do become ill may show symptoms of fever, joint pain and muscle aches, rashes, headaches and red eyes (conjunctivitis). Most people recover within a week without hospitalization and death is extremely rare.

            Zika virus is directly related to yellow fever, dengue, West Nile and Japanese encephalitis virus. That is not a nice family tree. 

How is Zika virus spread?

            Zika virus is spread through the bite of 3 different types of mosquitos, 2 of which are found throughout the southeastern U.S. and as far north as Connecticut. For decades, Zika virus remained relatively confined to Africa and Asia. Cases began emerging in the Americas and Europe within the past five years with a spike in North and South American cases over the past six months.   

If it’s not fatal, why all the fuss?

            The biggest concern with Zika virus is it appears to cause a serious and life-threatening birth defect known as microcephaly (small head). If a pregnant female (human) contracts Zika virus from an infected mosquito bite, the fetal brain could become underdeveloped, resulting in death or severe neurological deformation.

            Zika virus has the ability to spread quickly. The first case of Zika virus in Brazil was identified eight months ago. Since then, over 3,500 cases of microcephaly have been reported. 

Can dogs or cats get Zika virus?

            Unfortunately, we don't know if our pets are at risk. So far there has been no information or scientific study done on that topic. We do know that one of the mosquito species that spreads Zika does indeed bite dogs (20% of the time), although all of the mosquitoes that carry it prefer people over animals. Certainly there's the potential for a pet to become infected, but we don't know what that means for the health of the animal. Also, if a dog or cat were to become infected, we also don't know if they could spread the virus to humans. 

What can I do to protect my pets from Zika virus?

            Mosquito control is the best defense at this time against Zika virus. Remove any standing water from flower pots, bowls or buckets to help eliminate mosquito breeding areas.

            Unfortunately for us, the mosquitoes that carry it are incredibly tough critters. They are aggressive daytime feeders and they thrive indoors or outside. The eggs can survive dry, cold conditions for over a year and hatch into larvae as soon as they contact water.

            Even if you live in cold regions, the larvae of these mosquitoes can remain dormant for months during cool weather and emerge as soon as temperatures increase. When water and warmth are present, the entire mosquito life cycle – egg to adult – can occur in as few as 10 days. 

            There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika virus yet. For now, stay tuned to health alerts and protect your dogs and cats against other mosquito-borne infections such as heartworm disease.

            If you are pregnant, you should avoid travel to areas with known Zika virus. Avoid travel to Mexico, Puerto Rico and parts of Central America and South America.

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