What is it?
The Zika virus is found in areas where certain types of mosquito are common. In the current outbreak Zika has been found in South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico. It has also been found in parts of Miami, Florida, in the US, and some parts of West Africa, the Western Pacific, and Southeast Asia.
The Zika virus usually causes mild symptoms or none at all. But it has been linked with two serious conditions: microcephaly (small head) at birth and Guillain-Barré syndrome (a neurological disorder which affects movement, breathing, speech and swallowing).
Other problems that have been linked to Zika in babies include seizures, eye problems, hearing loss, and other birth defects affecting the face and head. These problems may be seen in people not infected by Zika virus, but less commonly.
How does Zika spread?
Nearly everyone infected with Zika virus gets it from bites from some types of mosquito. The mosquitoes that spread Zika are different from those that spread mosquitoes, and they bite more during the day than at night.
A very small percentage of people have also caught the Zika virus from kissing and having any kind of sex with an infected person. Zika can also spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby, or by breastfeeding.
What are the symptoms?
Most people infected with the Zika virus have no symptoms at all. It’s thought that only about 2 in every 10 people who get infected will become ill. The symptoms usually develop between 3 and 14 days after a bite. But it can be shorter or longer than this. Zika symptoms tend to be mild and usually go away after about a week. Possible symptoms include:
• A slight fever
• Pain in the joints, and sometimes swelling in the fingers and toes
• A rash
• Red and/or painful eyes
• Muscle pain
It is rare for anyone to have severe symptoms and die from the Zika virus.
What treatments work?
There is currently no drug that can treat Zika specifically. Treatment is aimed at easing the symptoms, such as fever and pain.
However, effective ways to prevent the infection include:
• Using insecticides and mosquito repellents.
• Covering up as much exposed skin as possible.
• Staying in air-conditioned rooms when possible, or in rooms with insect screens over windows and doors.
• Sleeping under a mosquito net.
• If you are a pregnant woman, or if you are planning to become pregnant, you should avoid travelling to an area with an active Zika outbreak.
• If you are pregnant and have recently returned from an area where there is Zika, you should see your doctor for testing.
At the moment, women are advised to avoid becoming pregnant while travelling in an area where there is an active Zika outbreak. They should also avoid becoming pregnant for a while after returning from there. This is to allow enough time to be as sure as possible that they haven’t been infected.