Topic Overview

What is Zika virus?

Zika virus is a type of virus that is spread by mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that carry Zika bite during daylight hours.

You're more likely to get the virus if you travel to parts of the world where it's more common. This includes parts of South America, Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.

A Zika infection is usually mild and may not cause symptoms. But it can be more serious for women who are pregnant because it can cause birth defects.

Experts have found that infection with Zika virus can cause Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). But only a small number of people who are infected with Zika virus will get GBS.

To learn more

Doctors are quickly learning more about what happens when people are infected with Zika virus. The most current information about Zika virus is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). If you are planning international travel, you can learn about the risk of Zika in the area you're traveling to. Contact:

  • The CDC at its toll-free phone number (1-800-232-4636) or website (www.cdc.gov/zika/).
  • Your doctor or local health department.

How is Zika virus spread?

Travelers who have Zika can spread it when they come home or travel to another area. If they get bitten, they can spread the virus to other mosquitoes.

A pregnant woman who gets infected with Zika can pass it to her unborn baby.

Zika can be spread through sexual contact even if the person does not have symptoms. But it is most often spread through a bite from an infected mosquito.

What are the symptoms?

Most people infected with Zika don't have any symptoms.

The main symptoms are fever, rash, painful joints, and red eyes. Symptoms are usually mild. They most often start within a week after the bite.

Some people also have a headache and muscle pain.

How is it treated?

There is no treatment for Zika virus. Symptoms usually go away on their own after about a week.

Treating your symptoms may help you feel better.

  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
  • Get extra rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

What if you're pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant?

Experts believe that babies born to women infected with Zika virus are at risk for birth defects, including microcephaly (say "my-kroh-SEF-uh-lee"). Microcephaly means that the baby's head is smaller than normal. It causes problems in how the baby's brain develops.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women wait until after they give birth before they travel to areas where there are Zika outbreaks.

Zika can spread through sexual contact even if the person does not have symptoms. If your male partner has been to an area where there is a Zika outbreak, the CDC recommends you delay having sex until the baby is born or use condoms every time you have vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

If you are pregnant and have traveled to an area with an outbreak of Zika, talk to your doctor about additional tests you may need.

Women who are thinking about becoming pregnant and their male partners should talk to their doctor about their risk of traveling to areas where there are Zika outbreaks. If your male partner has been to an area with ongoing Zika transmission, you may consider delaying getting pregnant.

How can you prevent Zika virus?

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus. But you can protect yourself from mosquito bites, especially when you travel. Remember that the mosquitoes that spread Zika are active during the day.

  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
  • Use insect repellent with DEET (N,N diethylmetatoluamide). You can buy it in different strengths up to 100%. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other experts suggest that it is safe to use a repellent that contains 10% to 30% DEET on children older than 2 months.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and are concerned about using DEET, talk with your doctor. There is no evidence that the use of DEET by pregnant or lactating women poses a health hazard to developing babies or children who are breastfeeding.
  • Spray clothing with DEET. Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing. (Remember that DEET can damage plastic, such as watch crystals, eyeglass frames, and some synthetic fabrics.)
  • Sleep under mosquito netting if you sleep during daylight hours.
  • Use flying-insect spray indoors around sleeping areas.
  • Do not leave puddles or open containers of water near where you are staying. Mosquitoes breed in standing water.
  • Avoid areas where there is an outbreak, especially if you are pregnant.

If you have been to an area where there is a Zika outbreak, use condoms or do not have sex for at least 8 weeks.

If you do get infected with Zika, protect yourself from mosquito bites, especially during the first week. Men should use condoms or not have sex for at least 6 months after symptoms begin. Women should use condoms or not have sex for at least 8 weeks after symptoms begin. This will help prevent the virus from spreading to other people.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). Zika and Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/zika/healtheffects/gbs-qa.html. Accessed November 22, 2016.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo, MD - Internal Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease

Current as ofDecember 6, 2016