Health and Prevention: Zika Virus Disease – What to Know and Do

Zika virus disease (Zika) is a disease caused by Zika virus that is primarily spread to people through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.

The most common symptoms of Zika are:

  • fever
  • rash
  • joint pain
  • conjunctivitis (red eyes).

The illness is usually mild, with, symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and is named after the Zika forest in Uganda. In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Zika outbreaks have probably occurred in many locations. Before 2007, at least 14 cases of Zika had been documented, although other cases were likely to have occurred and were not reported. Because the symptoms of Zika are similar to those of many other diseases, many cases may not have been recognized.

In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil and on Feb 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Local transmission has been reported in many other countries and territories. Zika virus likely will continue to spread to new areas.

Zika Infection and Pregnancy                   

Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus and has been linked to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly (small heads) in babies of mothers who had Zika virus while pregnant. Other problems have been detected among fetuses and infants infected with Zika virus before birth, such as absent or poorly developed brain structures, defects of the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth.  CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women. Women who are pregnant should not travel to areas with Zika. If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.

Specific areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission(http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html) is ongoing are often difficult to determine and are likely to change over time. If traveling, please visit the CDC Travelers’ Health site for the most updated travel information.

Health and Prevention Tips to Help Protect Yourself from Zika Infection

  1. If you don’t live in an area with Zika Infection, don’t travel to an area with Zika
  • Until we know more, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women. Women who are pregnant should not travel to any area where Zika virus is spreading.
  • If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip (See below).
  1. Take steps to prevent mosquito bites.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. When used as directed, these insect repellents are proven safe and effective even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  • Remove or stay away from mosquito breeding sites, like containers with standing water.
  1. Take steps to prevent getting Zika through sex
  • Until more is known, pregnant women with male sex partners who have lived in or traveled to an area with Zika virus should either use condoms the right way, every time, for vaginal, anal, or oral (mouth-to-penis) sex, or not have sex during the pregnancy.
  • If a pregnant woman is concerned that her male partner may have or had Zika virus infection, she should talk to her healthcare provider. She should tell her healthcare provider about her male partner’s travel history, including how long he stayed, whether or not he took steps to prevent getting mosquito bites, and if she had sex with him without a condom since his return.
  • Women trying to get pregnant and their male partners should talk to their healthcare provider before traveling to areas with Zika. Because sexual transmission is possible, both men and women should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.
  1. Pregnant Women Should See a Healthcare Provider
  • Pregnant women who have recently traveled to an area with Zika should talk to a healthcare provider about their travel even if they don’t feel sick.
  • It is especially important that pregnant women see a doctor if they develop a fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes during their trip or within 2 weeks after traveling to an area where Zika has been reported. They should tell the doctor where they traveled.
  • CDC has guidance to help doctors decide what tests are needed for pregnant women who may have been exposed to Zika.

If you are not pregnant, but you live in an area with Zika, here’s what you can do

  1. Talk to your healthcare provider
  • Women who want to get pregnant should talk with their healthcare provider about their goals for having children. They should also talk with their healthcare provider about the potential risk of Zika virus during pregnancy as well as their male partner’s potential exposures to Zika virus.
  • Women who do not want to get pregnant should talk with their healthcare provider about ways to prevent unintended pregnancy, including how to use birth control the right way every time. Women should consider safety, effectiveness, availability, and acceptability when choosing a birth control method.
  1. Take steps to prevent mosquito bites (See above)
  2. Take care of yourself if you get infected.

Because there is no specific medicine to treat Zika, a woman with Zika should

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Consider taking medicine to reduce fever and pain

To help keep others from getting sick, you should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.

  1. Take steps to prevent getting Zika through sex. (See above).

Remember the Health Power motto: Knowledge + Action = Power!

By following the tips above, it’s possible to maintain good health and the prevention of serious issues caused by things like Zika.

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