Zika is a viral infection caused by the bite of the Aedes mosquito. It can also be transmitted by sex. The virus has been in endemic in Central America, South America, and tropical Africa. There are now reported cases in the United States primarily in Florida and Texas. The clinical picture of Zika infection ranges from asymptomatic (no symptoms) to fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain, and headache. These symptoms can last several days to a week. The big concern about this infection is its effect on pregnancy and the fetus. It is known to cause microcephaly, which results in severe mental retardation, and also other severe brain defects.
The infection can be prevented by wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants and treating your clothing with permethrin while in the Zika infested areas. It is also recommended to use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents. The Zika virus has been found in the semen for 6 months after initial infection. Therefore males who travel to a Zika infested area should abstain from sex or use condoms for at least 6 months. Females are known to harbor the virus for 2 months. For this reason any female who is traveled into a Zika infested area should abstain from sex or use condoms for at least 2 months.
You should talk to your healthcare provider before traveling to these areas.
What is the Zika virus and why it is a concern?
The Zika virus is a flavivirus, part of a family of viruses that includes yellow fever and West Nile. It is a worldwide concern because it is suspected to cause microcephaly, a birth defect that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. The condition causes severe developmental delays and sometimes death. In addition, Zika has been linked in several countries to Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that leads to paralysis.
How is the Zika virus spread and what are the symptoms?
The Zika virus is spread by mosquitos in the “Aedes” genus, which includes the Asian tiger mosquito common in the southeast United States. They infect people through bites, most frequently during the daytime. Those people then become carriers when they have active symptoms. Only about twenty percent of people infected become ill. The symptoms are typically mild, for many unnoticeable, and last several days to a week. They include fever, headache, rash, joint pain and possible conjunctivitis (pink eye). Management includes addressing symptoms, including hydration, rest and pain relief. In addition, there have been documented cases of transmission during labor, blood transfusion, laboratory exposure and sexual contact.
Where have cases of the Zika virus been found?
The Zika virus is already in two dozen countries, including Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Venezuela. It has arrived in the United States, but only from travelers from infected regions. For the most updated information, visit the CDC Traveler’s Health Site.
What can you do to protect yourself?
With no treatment or vaccine available, the best way to protect yourself is to avoid
travel to infected areas and to adhere to mosquito protection measures. Use EPA-approved
repellent and wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts thick enough to block a mosquito
bite. At your residence, employ traditional mosquito control techniques such as keeping
screens on windows and doors, spraying pesticides, and emptying standing water receptacles,
such as buckets, birdbaths, and flower pots, where mosquitos breed. For a complete
listing of EPA-approved repellents, visit
What is being done to stop the Zika virus?
Researchers are working to create a vaccine. However, while clinical trials could begin this year, there will not likely be a vaccine for another few years.