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What is it and how is it spread?

Zika virus is a viral infection that is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. It usually leads to very mild symptoms, but in rare cases may cause birth defects and problems with the central nervous system. The virus is found in parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands, has recently been reported in Central and South America, India and the Caribbean.1,2

Who is at risk?

All travellers to areas where Zika virus is known to occur are at risk of infection, especially those visiting for a long time. Pregnant women are advised to postpone travel to areas where there is a high risk of catching the virus until after pregnancy. There are also rare cases of the disease being passed on through sexual contact.1,2

What are the symptoms?

Most people infected by Zika virus have no symptoms or very mild symptoms that usually start around 2–12 days after the mosquito bite and last for about 4–7 days.1 These include a rash, itching, a mild fever, headache, red and sore eyes, muscle and joint pains and swollen joints. Less common symptoms include loss of appetite, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach pain and dizziness.1,2

Serious complications are not common, though it is now believed that Zika virus can cause birth defects such as microcephaly (a small head) and in rare cases a disorder of the nervous system called Guillain-Barré syndrome.1

How can it be prevented?

There is no vaccine for Zika virus, so the best way to avoid infection is to prevent mosquito bites.1,2 The mosquito that carries the Zika virus is most active in daylight hours, but it is also a persistent biter, so travellers should take special care to avoid insect bites throughout the day and night. Ways to do this include wearing loose-fitting clothing covering as much of the body as possible, regularly applying insect repellents to clothing and bare skin, and using mosquito nets and air conditioning at night. This is especially important for pregnant women.1

How can it be treated?

There is no specific treatment for Zika virus infection as most people get better without any treatment.1,2 Rest, fluids and pain relief medications are recommended to help relieve symptoms.2

Where can I get further information?

Travellers should seek advice from a healthcare provider at least 4–8 weeks ahead of travel, especially if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, suffering from a severe long-term illness or have a condition that weakens the immune system.1,2

  1. Fit For Travel. Zika Virus Infection. Available at: Accessed August 2017.
  2. Travel Health Pro. Zika Virus. Available at: Accessed August 2017.

Date of preparation: November 2017