Zika Virus Infection
Zika virus infection is caused by a virus that is passed from an infected mosquito. Most people will have no symptoms. Some will have mild flu-like problems. Severe illness is rare.
The Zika virus is also linked to birth defects. See Zika Virus Infection and Pregnancy to learn more.
A specific type of mosquito can pick up the Zika virus when it bites someone who has a current Zika infection. The mosquito can then pass the virus to the next person it bites. The virus spreads in the body and leads to symptoms.
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This problem is more common in people who spend time in a high risk area without proper mosquito protection. Zika has been linked to:
- South America: Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela
- Mexico and Central America: El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama
- The Caribbean: Barbados, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Puerto Rico, and Saint Martin
Outbreaks have also happened in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Most people will not have symptoms. The body can find and remove the virus before problems start.
Others will have symptoms a few days after the bite. They may last a few days to a week. A person may have:
- Eye redness and irritation
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. The doctor may also ask about any recent travel to high risk places. A physical exam will be done.
Other viruses can be passed from the same mosquitoes that carry Zika virus. A blood test will be done to find out which virus is causing symptoms.
Most people get better on their own within a week. There are no medicines to treat the infection. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms until they pass. Choices are:
- Home care, such as rest and drinking fluids
- Over the counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen
There is no vaccine for the Zika virus. The risk of infection may be lowered by mosquito control measures, especially when spending time in places that are high risk.
There is some concern that the Zika virus can be passed during sexual activities. This is especially a concern during pregnancy.
In places with ongoing Zika transmission:
- Steps should be taken during pregnancy to prevent the spread of Zika, such as:
- Not having sex, OR
- Using condoms correctly with every act of vaginal, anal, or oral sex
The Zika virus may exist in the body or in sperm for a period of time even after symptoms have passed. To lower the risk of passing the virus to a fetus:
- Women who have been infected or suspect an infection should wait at least 8 weeks before trying to get pregnant.
- Men who have been infected or had possible exposure to Zika should wait at least 3 months before trying to have a child with their partner.
Those who have been to high risk places but have not shown symptoms should follow the same advice as above.
- Zika virus disease. World Health Organization website. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/zika-virus-disease.
- Zika virus infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/zika-virus-infection.
- Zika virus infection. Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization website. Available at: https://www.paho.org/en/topics/zika.
- Zika virus: print resources. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/fs-posters/index.html.
- James P. Cornell, MD
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