What is Zika? — Zika is a type of virus. Infection with Zika can cause fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. Zika virus is spread mainly through mosquito bites. But spread is also possible in other ways, including from a pregnant mother to her unborn baby, through sex, and through donated blood or organs.
If you have Zika while you are pregnant, it can cause problems for your baby. If you are not pregnant or planning to get pregnant, Zika is not likely to make you very sick or cause serious problems.
Where is Zika found? — Zika has occurred in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Since May of 2015, there has been an outbreak happening in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The virus has also been found in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.
There have been cases of Zika in the United States, too. So far, this has mostly happened to people who have traveled to countries where the virus is found.
For the most current information about the outbreak, see one of these websites:
●United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): www.cdc.gov
●World Health Organization (WHO): www.who.int
What are the symptoms of Zika? — Many people infected with Zika have no symptoms, or only mild symptoms. If there are symptoms, they usually happen 2 to 14 days after being bitten by a mosquito that has the virus.
Symptoms might include:
●Pain in the joints, especially in the hands and feet
Zika can also lead to problems in babies whose mothers have the infection while they are pregnant.
In some areas where there is Zika virus, there have also been more cases of a disease called “Guillain-Barré syndrome” (or “GBS”). This is a condition that causes muscle weakness. It seems to be caused by Zika in some cases. But most people who get Zika will not get GBS.
What if I am pregnant? — If you get infected with Zika while you are pregnant, you could pass the infection on to your baby. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, experts say you should avoid traveling to countries where there is Zika virus. If you do visit these countries, it’s especially important to try to avoid mosquito bites (see below).
During the Zika outbreak in Brazil, there have been many reports of problems in pregnant women with the infection. These problems have included babies being born with a head that is smaller than normal, and in some cases miscarriage (when a pregnancy ends on its own). The babies who are affected often have problems with their development, too. Experts are studying the effects of Zika on pregnant women and their babies.
If you are pregnant and recently traveled to one of the countries where there is Zika, tell your doctor or nurse. They might want to test you for the virus. They can do tests to see if your baby is likely to have it, too.
What if I want to get pregnant in the future? — If you are thinking about having a baby, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you plan for a healthy pregnancy. If you live outside the countries where Zika is found, but you have been to any of these countries, your doctor might suggest that you wait a few months before trying to get pregnant.
Can I get Zika through sex? — It’s possible. There have been reports of people getting Zika through sex. If you have been to a country where there is Zika virus, it’s a good idea to use a condom for any kind of sex. This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
To be on the safe side, some experts suggest the following guidelines. These are for people who do not live in countries with Zika virus:
●Men who have been to countries where there is Zika and have symptoms should use condoms for at least 6 months after symptoms start.
●Men who have been to countries where there is Zika but do not have symptoms should use condoms for at least 2 months after returning.
●Men who have been to countries where there is Zika whose partner is pregnant should use condoms for the rest of the partner’s pregnancy. This is especially important, even if the man does not have symptoms.
For people who live in countries where there is Zika, experts suggest continuing to use condoms for as long as the outbreak is happening.
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — Yes. If you live in (or recently visited) a country where Zika is found, see a doctor or nurse if you have symptoms.
Is there a test for Zika? — Yes. If your doctor or nurse thinks you might have Zika, he or she will order a blood test to look for the virus. He or she might also do tests for other diseases that have similar symptoms.
How is Zika treated? — There is no specific treatment for Zika virus infection. If your symptoms bother you, you should rest and drink plenty of fluids. You can also take acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol) to relieve fever and aches.
*Do not take aspirin or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (sample brand name: Aleve), unless your doctor or nurse says it’s okay. That’s because they can cause bleeding in people who have a disease that is similar to Zika, called “dengue fever.” Blood tests can tell your doctor or nurse if you have dengue fever, Zika, or something else.
*Never give aspirin or medicines that contain aspirin to children younger than 18 years. In children, aspirin can cause a serious problem called Reye syndrome.
Can Zika be prevented? — Yes. The best way to prevent Zika virus infection is to avoid the mosquitoes that carry it. Not all countries where Zika is common control mosquitoes well. But you can lower your chances of getting the infection if you live or travel there. You can:
●Stay inside when the mosquitoes that carry Zika are most active. They bite mostly during the daytime, in the very early morning, and in the few hours before sunset. Buildings with screens and air conditioning are safest.
●Wear shoes, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and a hat when you go outside.
●Wear bug spray or cream that contains DEET or a chemical called picaridin. Check the label to make sure. Do not use DEET on babies younger than 2 months.
●On your clothes and gear, use bug repellants that have a chemical called permethrin.
●Drain any standing water if possible, such as wading pools, buckets, and potted plants with saucers. Mosquitoes breed in standing water.
It’s also important to try to avoid mosquito bites if you have already gotten Zika. That’s because during the first week of having it, the virus can be found in your blood. If a mosquito bites you, and then bites another person, that person could then get Zika too.
Although Zika is spread mainly through mosquito bites, there are other possible ways to get it. One way is through sex (see above).
Another way Zika can be spread is through donated blood or tissues. If you want to donate blood, stem cells, eggs, or sperm, and have been to a country where there is Zika virus or had sexual contact with someone who has, tell the donation center staff. Then they can decide how long you should wait before donating. If you already donated after traveling to one of these countries, and you have symptoms of Zika or test positive for it, call the place where you donated. They will not give your donation to other people, in case it is infected.
There is no vaccine for Zika virus infection.