Pharmacist Role in Zika Preparedness

Summertime and warmer weather mean kids are out of school with summer vacations planned; it’s wedding season with honeymoons to follow; it’s also mosquito season. With mosquitos comes the threat of the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease1 with mild symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis that can last from a few days to a week2; Zika has also been linked to birth defects. The threat of Zika brings the opportunity for your pharmacy to become a resource with pharmacist counseling and patient preparedness to your traveling customers.

*Offer Zika virus informational brochures and travel tips.

If you have customers traveling to a destination with Zika virus transmissions reported, (click here for an up-to-date list) remind them to pack or purchase mosquito repellent products containing DEET, IR3535, or eucalyptus oil as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).3 The Zika-carrying mosquitos usually bite during the daytime, so it is also important to wear clothing that covers all body parts, and to stay indoors where there is air conditioning or at least screens on the doors and windows.4

*Stock up on mosquito repellent.

Scott Weaver, a virologist from the University of Texas Medical Branch, urges anyone traveling in the Zika affected-zones to be conscientious with mosquito repellent not just while there, but also for two weeks after they return, to be sure that they do not accidentally transmit the disease to mosquitos in the United States.1 The specific species of mosquitoes capable of transmitting the Zika virus (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus) have a significant presence here in the United States along the southern and eastern borders and throughout the southeast portion of the country. If a mosquito capable of carrying the virus bites an infected person, it is now a carrier ready to transmit the disease with its next bite.3 “It only takes one infected person to arrive [in the United States as a visitor or a resident returning home] and be bitten and the transmission cycle takes off,” said Weaver.1

*Stay up to date on the Zika vaccine progress.

At this time, there are no vaccines or drugs to treat or prevent the Zika virus.2 The recommended recovery currently includes rest, fluids and the use of acetaminophen. Aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be avoided to reduce risk of bleeding3 if the illness turns out to be dengue, another virus caused by mosquito bites with similar symptoms.5

*Know the signs & symptoms of Zika to help recognize Zika in returning travelers, especially pregnant women.

As many as 80% of people affected with Zika show no symptoms.3 Those that do show symptoms can experience a mild fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis that can last from a few days to a week.2 A very serious aspect of the Zika virus is the link between the virus and birth defects; pregnant women in affected areas and women who become pregnant after visiting an affected area are at risk for the development of microcephaly, a birth defect in which the baby’s head and brains are often smaller than usual. Other virus-related complications may include seizures, feeding problems, hearing loss, vision issues, and developmental delay.2 CDC Director Thomas Frieden recommends that women who have traveled to an area where Zika virus has been spreading get tested for infection 2–12 weeks after they return home.6

Health officials are warning that it’s only a matter of time before the Zika virus spreads to the United States,2 and once it’s here, it will be here to stay. Leading experts predict that the Zika virus will become a constant low-level threat that Americans will need to be vaccinated against routinely (once there is a vaccine available) similar to the process of vaccinating against rubella, a virus that also causes birth defects. It is also predicted that Zika will not just be an epidemic wave that passes over the world then vanishes; it will become permanent like West Nile virus that increases and decreases in severity with time.1 Pharmacists will play an important role in educating patients about precautions and developments as the Zika virus continues to develop its stronghold in the USA.

To stay up-to-date on the latest Zika virus information and developments, resources include the Centers for Disease ControlNational Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the American Medical Association.3


  1. McKenna, Maryn. “Zika Is Likely to Become a Permanent Peril in U.S.” Phenomena: Germination. National Geographic, 04 May 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.
  2. Ross, Meghan. “6 Facts About Zika Virus Pharmacists Should Know.” News. Pharmacy Times, 22 Jan. 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.
  3. Poquette, Jason. “Dispensing Zika Virus Information to Patients in the Pharmacy.” MultiBriefs: Exclusive. MultiView, 12 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.
  4. “Zika Outbreak: What Pharmacists Need to Know.” Prevention. American Pharmacists Association, 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.
  5. “Symptoms and What To Do If You Think You Have Dengue.” Dengue Homepage. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 24 May 2016.
  6. Traynor, Kate. “Public Health Officials Remain Alarmed at Spread of Zika Virus.” Pharmacy News. ASHP, 09 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.

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