What is Zika virus?
Zika is a type of virus that is spread by mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that carry Zika are most active during the day but can bite at night.
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.
Most people infected with Zika don't have any symptoms. When symptoms are present, they include fever, rash, painful joints, and red eyes. 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 CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have the most current information about Zika virus. If you plan to travel, you can learn about your risk 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 it spread?
Zika is most often spread through a bite from an infected mosquito. It can be spread by someone who has the Zika virus through sexual contact, even if the infected person does not have symptoms.
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.
What are the symptoms?
Most people infected with Zika don't have any symptoms. Symptoms are usually mild. They most often start within a week after the bite. The main symptoms may include:
- Painful joints.
- Red eyes.
Some people also have a headache and muscle pain.
How is Zika virus 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 before you take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
- Get extra rest.
- To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
What if you're pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant?
Experts believe that babies born to women who have the 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 be 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 that 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 the risk of traveling to areas where there are Zika outbreaks. Experts recommend that you delay pregnancy if you or your male partner has been to an area with ongoing Zika transmission.
After returning from an area with risk of Zika:
- A woman with no symptoms should wait at least 2 months before getting pregnant. If she does have symptoms, she should wait at least 2 months from the start of her symptoms or the date she was diagnosed with Zika.
- A man with no symptoms should wait at least 3 months before getting his partner pregnant. If he does have symptoms, he should wait at least 3 months from the start of his symptoms or the date he was diagnosed with Zika.
How can you prevent Zika virus?
There is no vaccine to prevent Zika. But you can protect yourself from mosquito bites, especially when you travel.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
- Use insect repellent with DEET. You can buy it in different strengths up to 100%. 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.
- Spray clothing with DEET. Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing. (Remember that DEET can harm plastic, such as parts of watches, eyeglass frames, and some fabrics.)
- Sleep under mosquito netting.
- 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 2 months for women and 3 months for men.
If you do get infected with Zika, protect yourself from mosquito bites for at least 3 weeks to prevent the spread of the virus. Men should use condoms or not have sex for at least 3 months after symptoms begin. Women should use condoms or not have sex for at least 2 months after symptoms begin. This will help prevent the virus from spreading to other people.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
W. David Colby IV MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Current as of: February 9, 2022