Zika virus is a disease spread to humans through mosquito bites. In rare cases, the virus can be transmitted by contact with infected blood or through sexual contact with an infected individual. Officials have also observed vertical transmission from infected women to in utero or newborn children. Symptoms of Zika virus infection closely resemble the early symptoms of dengue fever infection, which can complicate diagnosis and treatment. Zika virus cases are usually asymptomatic or mild, and resolve without the need for hospitalization. However, in some cases, infection can lead to neurological complication, and health authorities have reported a causal link between infection during pregnancy and microcephaly and/or severe neurologic birth defects.


Where Zika is Most Common

Zika virus activity is most common in Africa and Southeast Asia. However, the Aedes mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus are found in tropical and subtropical areas throughout the world. International travel has led to new Zika virus outbreaks through the South Pacific and the Americas during recent years.


Signs and Symptoms of Zika Virus

Only about one in five people infected with Zika virus develops symptoms. Zika virus illnesses are usually mild and last less than one week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is rare. Recognize these signs and symptoms of Zika. 

  • Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes.
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Vomiting

In rare cases, infection can lead to neurological conditions such as Guillain-Barre syndrome. Emerging research has prompted health authorities to report that Zika virus infection during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, such as microcephaly.


Prevention of Zika

No vaccination exists for Zika virus, however, you can reduce the amount of exposed skin that mosquitoes can bite. Use the following tips to protect your skin from the virus.

  • Visit a travel specialist or doctor prior to departure to discuss the relative threat of Zika at your destination. This is especially important if you are pregnant or may become pregnant while traveling.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks, and shoes, and consider wearing a hat.
  • If possible, treat clothing and headgear with an insect repellent such as permethrin or DEET.
  • Use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on remaining exposed skin.
  • When possible, eradicate mosquito breeding areas by eliminating standing water.
  • Use air conditioning or secure screens on windows and doors to prevent mosquitoes from entering the home or workplace.
  • The US CDC recommends that men who live in or have traveled to Zika-affected areas and who have a pregnant sexual partner either consistently and correctly use condoms or abstain from sexual activity for the duration of pregnancy.
  • Monitor yourself for signs of fever, vomiting, or other symptoms listed above.


Treatment Options if Infected With Zika

If you get sick while traveling in a Zika-affected area or shortly after returning home – especially if you were pregnant during your trip or suspect you might have become pregnant – seek medical attention, and be sure to inform your doctor that you may have been exposed to Zika virus. Follow these guidelines when Zika virus may be present.

  • Take medicines such as acetaminophen or paracetamol to relieve fever and pain.
  • Avoid taking aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) until dengue fever has been ruled out.
  • Pregnant women who have traveled to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission should contact their medical providers as soon as possible, even if not the women do not have symptoms.
  • Partners of pregnant women who have traveled to an area with ongoing Zika virus transmission may wish to consult their medical providers for further information and advice.

All travelers should visit a physician prior to traveling to understand the specific health risks for their particular destination and unique health status.


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