Zika is a virus that is mainly spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, though other routes of infection are possible.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an up-to-date world map showing areas with active Zika transmission.
Signs and Symptoms of Zika Virus Infection
Symptoms of Zika may include:
Typically, these symptoms are mild and last about a week.
Causes and Risk Factors of Zika Virus Infection
The Zika virus is spread primarily through the bites of infected Aedes mosquitoes (including the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus species).
The mosquitoes become infected when they feed on someone who already has the virus, and they spread it to other people through their bites.
There are other, less common ways that the Zika virus may be spread. Some of these reported modes of transmission have not been confirmed or require more research. It is not spread by respiratory droplets like SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 infection.
Mother to Child
Zika can be transmitted from a mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth.
Health officials have confirmed that the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted through unprotected vaginal, anal, and oral sex. The virus remains active in semen longer than in other bodily fluids such as blood and urine.
Laboratory and Healthcare Settings
There have been some reports of Zika virus infections acquired in laboratory settings.
How Is Zika Diagnosed?
Zika virus infection can be detected through a blood or urine test. There are tests available to detect the presence of the virus in the body or serological tests that look for antibodies your body makes to fight infection (although this test is not as accurate; the same test can detect viruses like chikungunya and dengue).
Testing for Zika is usually recommended if a person shows symptoms after having been in a high-risk area or having unprotected sex with a partner who has been in an area where Zika is common.
Many people infected with the virus don't have any signs or develop only mild symptoms, so the infection may go undetected.
Prognosis of Zika Virus Infection
Duration of Zika Virus Infection
Treatment and Medication Options for Zika Virus Infection
There is no vaccine for Zika, and treatment of the viral infection usually involves managing the symptoms because there are no proven antiviral therapies available.
To relieve symptoms of the virus, the CDC recommends that you:
- Drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration
- Get plenty of rest
- Take acetaminophen to reduce pain and fever
- Don't take aspirin, ibuprofen, or any nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) without talking to your doctor
- Tell your physician about all the medications you're taking if you become infected with the Zika virus
Alternative and Complementary Therapies
Prevention of Zika Virus Infection
There are several ways to protect yourself:
- Use an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–registered insect repellent with active ingredients such as DEET and picaridin.The EPA offers an online search tool to help you choose the right repellent. But don't use insect repellent on babies younger than two months of age.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts
- Find lodging with air-conditioning or screens to keep mosquitoes outside
- Treat clothes with the insecticide permethrin
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you’re sleeping outdoors
- Cover a baby's crib, stroller, or carrier with mosquito netting
- Remove stagnant water that may collect in places like planters, buckets, birdbaths, or trash containers.
Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should consider avoiding any travel to areas with risk of Zika.
Complications of Zika Virus Infection
Although most people recover from Zika within a week, there can be serious complications related to the virus.
Pregnancy and Zika
Pregnant women should take special precautions to protect themselves, because Zika virus infection has been linked to miscarriage and birth defects.
The CDC recommends that women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should consider postponing travel to areas where Zika is a concern. If expectant mothers must travel, they should talk to their doctor ahead of time and come up with a strategy to prevent exposure to mosquitoes and practice safe sex.
The CDC advises men who plan to conceive not to have unprotected sex for at least three months after any possible Zika exposure or symptoms since the virus can survive in semen for a prolonged period.
Research and Statistics: How Many People Have Zika?
The CDC’s national database keeps track of any reported cases of the Zika virus in the United States.
In 2020, there were three Zika virus disease cases reported in the United States; each of those cases were travelers returning from infected areas.
Zika Today and New Research
Related Conditions of Zika
Several countries have reported increases in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) following Zika outbreaks.
Other Insect-Borne Diseases
Just as alarming as the increase in known diseases is the fact that nine new germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks have been discovered in the United States and its territories since 2004. These include the Bourbon virus, a rare and deadly tick-borne disease that was first spotted in Bourbon County, Kansas, in 2014, and the Heartland virus, which is most likely transmitted by lone star ticks and is endemic to midwestern and southern states.
Resources We Love
The CDC offers science-based, data-driven info on Zika in the United States and abroad, including the basics about the virus, tips on prevention and mosquito control, and up-to-date maps and statistics.
The WHO directs and coordinates international health within the United Nations. Check out their website for comprehensive coverage of Zika, including fact sheets on the virus and associated conditions, updates on outbreaks, and answers to common questions.
Part of the National Institutes of Health, the NIAID undertakes and supports research into infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases. On their website, you can find the latest news about treatment and vaccine research.
Additional reporting by Lynn Marks.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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