Zika Virus: Should you be worried? What precautions can you take?

Dr Ruth Handford shares some useful information about Zika Virus including, who should be concerned about the virus, what can be done to prevent infection and whether you should still travel to an affected area.

What is Zika Virus?

Zika is a viral infection spread by mosquito bites. The types of mosquitos that spread the disease bite in the daytime, as well as the night. You can also contract Zika virus through sexual intercourse with someone who has it. Pregnant women who catch Zika virus can pass it to the unborn baby.

If you become infected with Zika virus, it can remain active in your blood for a week. If a mosquito bites you during this time, the mosquito can become a carrier of the Zika virus, and go on to spread it to others.

What effects does Zika have?

Most people who get Zika virus do not even know they have it.

At most, they may get mild aches and pains, a headache, temperature symptoms or a rash. Symptoms may last up to a week. It is very rare to need any kind of treatment at all.

Once someone has had Zika virus, it is thought that they become immune to it and cannot catch it again.

The effects on an unborn baby are much more serious. If a pregnant woman becomes infected with Zika, the unborn baby is at risk of also getting the virus. This can cause severe abnormal and incomplete brain development, called microcephaly. It can also cause defects of the eye, hearing problems, and growth delay.

Can you have a test for Zika Virus?

There are urine and blood tests available to determine whether someone has Zika virus. This is not routinely done, but can be useful in pregnancy.

Can it be treated?

There is no specific medicine to treat Zika virus. Treatment is with fluids, rest, and paracetamol for any pain or temperature symptoms.

Can it be prevented?

There is no vaccine against Zika virus. The best way to reduce your risk of contracting it is to use effective mosquito repellent.

Reduce mosquito bites by wearing long sleeved tops and long trousers. Staying in accommodation with screens on the windows and doors, and with air conditioning, can also reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites. Use a mosquito net over the bed at night, especially if sleeping outdoors.

Which countries are affected?

The current countries with active transmission are largely in South America, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific. You should check up to date travel advice for your destination, as the virus may spread rapidly. You can find a list of countries with known active transmission at www.cdc.gov.

Fears have recently arisen about active transmission in Florida, particularly around Miami. Pregnant women are being advised NOT to travel to this area.

Should I change my travel plans?

If you are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy in the next 2-6 months, then yes. Consider changing your travel plans to avoid areas with known Zika transmission. You can find up to date information about affected areas on www.cdc.gov.

Advice for pregnant women:

Current advice is to avoid travel to areas known to be affected by Zika virus. Please check the up to date information about affected areas on the website mentioned above.

If you absolutely have to travel to one of these areas, or are concerned about Zika virus generally, it is vital to avoid mosquito bites using the measures described above.

If you do travel to a Zika virus area, current advice is to avoid sex during and after your visit whilst you are pregnant. If you do have sex, use a condom correctly every time. If your partner has travelled to a Zika virus area, you should avoid sex for at least a week after they return.

Planning a pregnancy?

Women with suspected Zika virus should wait at least 8 weeks after symptoms began before trying to get pregnant, and men with Zika should wait at least 6 months after symptoms began.

Women and men who have travelled to these areas, but show no symptoms of infection, should wait at least 8 weeks before trying to get pregnant.

Always consult your own doctor before travelling

These travel tips are intended to provide general information to travellers who are concerned about zika virus and do not replace a visit to your doctor . If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.

About Dr Ruth Handford

Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years' experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.

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