A Zika infection is caused by a virus that is usually passed from an infected mosquito.
The virus may cause flu-like symptoms in some but has little effect on most people.
The virus can cause significant birth defects to developing fetuses. More studies are needed to determine the exact reason but national organizations have issued some safety guidelines.
A specific type of mosquito can pick up the Zika virus when it bites someone with a current infection. The mosquito can then pass the virus to the next person it bites.
Though most infections pass from mosquito to person, some infection may pass from person to person:
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:
Previous outbreaks have been reported in Africa. Check with government travel resources to see where current outbreaks are before you travel.
If symptoms develop, they may appear a few days after the bite. Symptoms may last a few days to a week and can include:
Zika infection in pregnant women may cause certain complications for the baby, such as:
A blood test is needed to confirm the presence of the zika virus or zika antibodies. Antibodies are made by the body in response to a specific infection and may be present for up to 12 weeks after an infection.
You may be asked about your risk of Zika exposure before and during the pregnancy. This includes travel to or residence in high risk areas and risk of infection in your sex partner. Blood tests may be recommended for:
Placental and fetal tissue may be tested in woman who do not have a confirmed Zika infection but have a fetus or infant with Zika-associated birth defects.
If the test is positive for Zika and you are pregnant, you may be referred to a maternal-fetal specialist or an infectious disease specialist with expertise in pregnancy.
There are no medications to treat a Zika infection. If symptoms appear, they should pass on their own within a week. Basic home care, including rest and drinking enough fluids, can help with recovery.
Acetaminophen may be advised to help decrease fever or pain. Other over the counter medications, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are not advised if the specific virus has not been identified. NSAIDs and aspirin can cause complications with other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue infection.
If you have the Zika virus, it can be passed directly to other people through sexual contact. 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 members or neighbors. It is important to take precautions against mosquito bites while you are infected, for about a week, to prevent the spread of the virus.
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:
There are some recommended precautions for women who are pregnant.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Pregnant women: how to protect yourself. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/pregnancy/protect-yourself.html. Updated August 16, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017.
Zika and pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/Zika/pregnancy/question-answers.html. Updated August 9, 2016. Accessed August 28, 2017.
Zika virus in pregnancy and congenital Zika syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T910450. Updated July 24, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017.
Zika virus infection. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T909469/Zika-virus-infection. Updated June 23, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017.
9/30/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://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 May 5, 2017. Accessed September 19, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 11/17/2017