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Zika Virus: Transmission & Prevention, Symptoms & Treatment

Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World

Published: 2015-12-07 : (Rev. 2016-02-08)

Synopsis and Key Points:

Information regarding Zika Virus, a disease similar to chikungunya and dengue viruses spread by the same type of mosquitoes.

Main Digest

The Zika virus is spread to people through the bites of mosquitoes. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are rash, fever, red eye and joint pain. The illness is usually mild, with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring a person to be hospitalized is not common.

Zika virus, (pronounced zee-kuh), is defined as a flavivirus, closely related to dengue. Zika virus is related to dengue, yellow fever, West Nile and Japanese encephalitis, viruses that are also members of the virus family Flaviviridae. Outbreaks of zika virus have previously been reported in tropical Africa, in some areas in Southeast Asia and more recently in the Pacific Islands.

Outbreaks of Zika have happened in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands. Due to the fact that the Aedes species of mosquitoes which spread Zika virus are found around the world, it is likely that outbreaks will spread to new countries. Zika virus is not found in America at this time; however, instances of Zika have been reported in travelers who are returning.

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika, or medicine to treat it. Travelers can protect themselves from this disease by taking steps to prevent mosquito bites. When traveling to countries where Zika virus or other viruses spread by mosquitoes have been reported, use insect repellent, wear long sleeved shirts and pants and remain in places with air conditioning or that use screened doors and windows.

Symptoms of Zika Virus Illness

Approximately one in five people infected with the Zika virus become ill. The most common symptoms of Zika are:

The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is not common. Deaths due to Zika have not been reported. The symptoms of Zika are similar to those of chikungunya and dengue, which are diseases caused by other viruses spread by the same type of mosquitoes. A health care provider might order blood tests to look for Zika or similar viruses such as dengue or chikungunya viruses.

Treating Zika Virus Illness

At this time, there is no medicine to treat Zika virus illness. The way to treat the illness is to treat the symptoms. It is important to get plenty of rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration and take medications such as paracetamol or acetaminophen to relieve pain and fever. Aspirin, as well as other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID's) should be avoided until dengue fever can be ruled out to reduce the risk of hemorrhage.

Transmission of Zika Virus Illness

The Zika virus is something that may be transmitted through mosquito bites, on rare occasion from mother to child, as well as potentially through infected blood or sexual contact. What follows are descriptions of these means of transmitting Zika.

Infected Blood or Sexual Contact: In theory, the Zika virus could be spread through blood transfusion. At this time, there are no known reports of this occurring. There has been a single report of possible spread of the virus through sexual contact.

From Mother to Child: A mother already infected with Zika virus near the time of delivery might pass on the virus to her newborn around the time of birth; this is rare. As of this time, there are no reports of infants getting Zika virus through breastfeeding. Due to the benefits of breastfeeding, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed even in areas where the Zika virus is found.

Mosquito Bites: Zika virus is transmitted to people mainly through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The mosquitoes are the same ones that spread chikungunya and dengue viruses. The mosquitoes usually lay eggs in and near standing water in things such as bowls, buckets, flower pots, animal dishes and vases. The mosquitoes are aggressive daytime bites, prefer to bite people and live both indoors and outdoors near to where people are. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on someone who is already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes may then spread the Zika virus to other people via bites.

Preventing Zika Virus Illness

No vaccine exists to prevent Zika virus disease. You can prevent Zika virus illness by avoiding mosquito bites. Mosquitoes spread Zika virus through bites which happen largely during the daytime.

People can protect themselves from mosquito bites by using repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, as well as some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthol-diol products, which provide long lasting protection. If you use both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first and then the insect repellent. Do not spray insect repellent on skin under your clothing. Treat clothing with permethrin, or buy permethrin-treated clothes. Always follow the instructions on the label when using insect repellent or sunscreen.

When weather permits, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Use air conditioning or window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside. If you are unable to protect yourself from mosquitoes inside your home or hotel, sleep under a mosquito bed net. Help to reduce the numbers of mosquitoes inside and outside of your home or hotel room by emptying standing water from containers such as buckets or flowerpots.

If you already have Zika, follow the steps above to protect other people from getting sick too. During the first week of infection, Zika virus may be found in the affected person's blood and passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to others. To help prevent others from getting sick, avoid mosquito bites during the first week of illness.

Quick Facts:

Zika virus: 5 things to know
(Canadian Medical Association Journal)

A concise "Things to know about Zika virus infection" article for physicians highlights key points about this newly emerged virus in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)


The World Health Organization announced on 1st February 2016 that the rapid spread of the Zika virus amounts a global health emergency, echoing a call by the EU to fund research on the topic. In addition to the Umea researchers' role as expert consultants to the ECDC, the Umea University researchers, led by Joacim Rocklov and Professor Annelies Wilder-Smith, are answering this call and capitalizing on the existing partnerships, infrastructures, technologies and knowledge developed through DengueTools consortium to combat the ongoing Zika pandemic.

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