A Zika infection is caused by a virus that is passed from an infected mosquito. The virus may cause flu-like symptoms in some. Severe complications or illness that need hospitalization are very rare. The Zika virus is also linked to certain birth defects, see Zika Virus Infection and Pregnancy for more information.
A specific type of mosquito can pick up the Zika virus when it bites someone with a current Zika infection. The mosquito can then pass the virus to the next person it bites. Once the virus is in the body it can spread and lead to symptoms.
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The greatest risk factor is spending time in a high risk area without proper mosquito protection. A current outbreak of Zika has been reported in:
- South America particularly Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela
- Mexico and Central America particularly El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama
- The Caribbean particularly Barbados, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Puerto Rico, and Saint Martin
Previous outbreaks have been reported in Africa and Southeast Asia. Check with government travel resources to see where current outbreaks are before you travel.
Most people infected with the Zika virus will never develop symptoms. The body can detect and remove the virus before symptoms begin.
If symptoms do develop, they may appear a few days after the bite. Symptoms may last a few days to a week and can include:
- Conjunctivitis—redness and irritation of eye
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A viral infection may be suspected based on your symptoms. Talk to your doctor about any recent travel, especially to high risk areas.
There are a number of similar viruses that can be passed from mosquitoes such as chikungunya or dengue. A blood test may be done to determine the specific virus that is causing the symptoms.
Symptoms should pass on their own within a week. There are no medications to treat a Zika infection, basic home care including rest and drinking enough fluids can help recovery.
Acetaminophen may be recommended to help decrease fever or pain. Other over the counter medications like NSAIDs and aspirin are not recommended if the specific virus has not been identified. NSAIDs and aspirin can cause complications with other mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue infection.
The Zika virus may exist in the body or in sperm for a short time even after symptoms have passed. To decrease the risk of passing the virus to a new fetus the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends:
- Women who have been infected or suspect an infection should wait at least 8 weeks before trying to get pregnant.
- Men who have been infected or had possible exposure to Zika should wait at least 6 months before trying to have a child with your partner.
For those who have been to high risk areas but have shown no symptoms the CDC recommends waiting at least 8 weeks before attempting pregnancy. You should talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have about future pregnancy.
There is no current vaccine for the Zika virus. Protecting yourself from mosquito bites is the best prevention. If you live in areas with known mosquito-related illnesses or you are traveling to areas with this risk:
- Spend your time in locations that are protected by insect screens or have air-conditioning.
- Cover your skin. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and socks and shoes.
- Use insect repellents on your skin and your clothing. Look for repellents that contain DEET.
- Use proper mosquito netting at night. Look for netting treated with insecticide.
- Choose permethrin-treated clothes and equipment or treat your clothes with permethrin.
- Do not leave standing water in buckets, flowers pots, or other containers. Mosquitoes breed in standing water.
For babies and children:
- Do not use insect repellent on children under 2 months of age.
- Cover carriers, stroller, and cribs with mosquito netting.
- Dress children in clothing that covers the arms and legs.
When applying repellent to children 2 months and older:
- Spray into adults hands and then apply to child’s face.
- Avoid getting repellent on child’s hands, eyes, and mouth.
There is some concern that the Zika virus can be passed during sexual activities. A condom can prevent the spread. If your partner has recently been to high risk areas, a condom is recommended for the first week or so to prevent the spread of Zika.
If you have the Zika virus, it is unlikely that you can pass it directly to other people with casual contact. However, if a mosquito bites you while you are infected, that mosquito can then pass the infection to someone else. The mosquito will most often affect people nearby such as family or neighbors. It is important to take precaution against mosquito bites while you are infected, about a week, to prevent the spread of the virus.
Centers For Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov
World Health Organization http://www.who.int
Health Canada https://www.canada.ca
Public Health Agency of Canada http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca
Zika virus disease questions and answers. WHO website. Available at: http://who.int/features/qa/zika/en/. Last updated January 20, 2016. Accessed December 15, 2017.
Zika virus fact sheets. Centers for Disease Control and prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/fs-posters/index.html. Last update: November 14, 2017. Accessed December 15, 2017.
Zika virus infection. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T909469/Zika-virus-infection . Updated October 31, 2017. Accessed December 15, 2017.
Zika virus in pregnancy and congenital Zika syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T910450 . Updated December 1, 2017. Accessed December 15, 2017.
9/30/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T909469/Zika-virus-infection :CDC Zika interim response plan. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/zika/public-health-partners/cdc-zika-interim-response-plan.html. Updated September 30, 2016. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 11/2018
- Update Date: 11/17/2017