Zika virus

What is Zika virus? How is it transmitted?

The Zika virus is a virus transmitted through an Aedes mosquito bite. Most commonly, these mosquitoes become infected when they bite an infected individual. The virus is then spread to other people through subsequent bites. Zika virus can also be transmitted through sex, blood transfusion, or from an infected pregnant person to their baby. While outbreaks of Zika virus have mostly occurred primarily in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa and Asia, cases have also occurred in parts of South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.  

What are the symptoms associated with Zika virus?

Common symptoms of the Zika virus include a mild fever, rash, muscle and joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), and headache. Symptoms generally start showing up between 3 to 14 days after being infected and can last anywhere from 2 to 7 days. About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus will develop symptoms. Symptoms can be relatively mild or not appear at all, making it hard for infected individuals to know if they have the virus. Speaking with a health care provider is advised for those who have recently traveled to affected areas or experience any of these symptoms. A diagnosis can be confirmed through blood tests. There is no evidence that Zika virus causes death; however, the virus can be associated with other medical conditions or complicate pre-existing health concerns. 

Who is at risk?

Living in or traveling to an area affected by Zika virus increases a person's risk of infection. In addition, having unprotected sexual contact with an individual who may have recently lived or traveled in an affected area can also increase the risk of contracting Zika virus. Given that the virus may introduce significant complications in pregnancy, it is recommended that people who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant consult a health care provider before traveling to affected regions. 

How can I reduce my chances of getting Zika virus?

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent against Zika virus. The best ways to reduce your risk of transmission are to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes and avoid traveling to affected areas. Specifically, you can avoid getting bit by wearing long-sleeved, light-colored shirts and pants; using insect repellants; staying in places with air conditioning, as well as window screens, or mosquito netting; and treating clothing or outdoor gear with insecticide may help you avoid being bitten. Additionally, avoiding areas with mosquito breeding grounds such as standing water, blocked drains, and accumulated garbage is advised. Due to the fact that the virus can be sexual transmitted from person to person, those who live in or are traveling to an area affected by Zika virus may choose to abstain from sex or engage in protected sex by using condoms correctly and consistently in order to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Is there any treatment for Zika virus infection?

There is currently no medication to treat Zika virus. Those infected are advised to get rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration, and take over-the-counter medication to treat fever or pain (acetaminophen is recommended; do not take aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs]). If symptoms worsen, seek additional medical attention. 

What else do I need to know about Zika virus?

Zika virus has been associated with other neurological and autoimmune health concerns. Infants of people who were infected by Zika virus during pregnancy are at greater risk for complications, including microcephaly, a serious birth defect that causes babies to be born with an underdeveloped brain and head size. Zika virus can also trigger Guillan-Barre syndrome (GBS), an auto-immune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, causing tingling, muscle weakness, and in rare cases, paralysis. 

Last reviewed/updated: March 11, 2021

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