Zika Virus

Young women's version of this guide


Zika is a virus transmitted through infected (Aedes) mosquitos that could cause serious health concerns in some people. Scientists are working hard to understand this health problem however there are still many questions. Although there is no vaccine or treatment for Zika at this time, there are things you can do to lower your risk of getting the virus.

What is Zika?

The name “Zika” is the name of the forest in Uganda where the mosquito carrying the virus was first found many years ago. The Zika virus infection is usually mild and people rarely die of it. Only about 1 in 5 people who are infected with the Zika virus will actually get sick; however, infants born to mothers who are infected are at risk of having a serious birth defect called “microcephaly” or small head.

How does a person get infected with the Zika virus?

Zika virus disease is usually caused by the bite of certain infected mosquitos called “Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus.” However, it can also be transmitted (spread) through vaginal, anal and oral sex and when sharing sex toys with an infected partner—even if your partner doesn’t have any symptoms. It is also possible for a person to become infected with the Zika virus through a blood transfusion. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), since 2016-2017, there are no reported cases transmitted by mosquitos in the United States. However, travelers are still at risk and other cases have been reported in countries such as Brazil.

What are the symptoms of Zika?

Common symptoms of Zika virus disease may include: fever, pain in the joints, muscle pain, rash and redness of the eyes. These symptoms usually last for a few days to one week. Because the illness is usually mild, most people may not know they have been infected.

How is the Zika virus diagnosed?

It is VERY important to tell your health care provider if you and/or your partner have been traveling. If your health care provider is concerned that you are at risk for the Zika virus, he/she will likely test your blood or urine to check for Zika virus and other possible infections transmitted through mosquitoes.

What areas are affected by the Zika virus?

There are certain areas in South and Central America and the Caribbean, including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands where there have been many cases of the Zika virus transmitted by infected Aedes mosquitos. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that places where the Zika virus is found will likely change, as it spreads to new areas. You can see an up-to-date map of affected areas on the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html

If you, your family or friends are planning to travel in the near future, you should visit the CDC Traveler’s Health site: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information for up to date travel information.

Pregnant women should talk to their health care provider before planning a trip to an area affected by the Zika virus. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that:

  • Women who are sexually active and not using a reliable method of birth control as well as women who are trying to become pregnant, should talk to their health care provider before traveling to areas known to be infected by the Zika virus.
  • Anyone traveling to areas affected by the Zikavirus should use methods to avoid mosquito bites.

What can I do to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos that could be infected with the Zika virus?

Certain (infected) mosquitos such as the Aedes species can cause serious health problems. The best way to avoid getting sick is to not get bitten by an infected mosquito. Other ways to lower your risk of mosquito borne illness in affected areas include:

  1. Stay indoors or where there are screens on windows and doors (that are not torn) and air conditioning.
  2. Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants when outside. Avoid wearing clothing that exposes your skin (such as shorts and sleeveless or short sleeve shirts).
  3. Use insect repellant that has been approved by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Be sure to follow the instructions on the label. Check here for approved products: https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents 
  4. Use clothing that has been treated with permethrinNever apply permethrin directly to the skin.
  5. Sunscreen may be applied first then insect repellant
Zika virus is most often spread by mosquito bites. If someone becomes infected he/she can spread it to another person by sexual contact. Not having sex is the best way to avoid getting infected. If you choose to be sexually active, ask your sexual partner(s) if they have traveled to an area affected by the Zika virus. Male and female condoms and dental dams can lessen the chance of getting/spreading Zika virus through sex. Talk to your health care provider to find out if you may be at risk.

For more information, visit: www.cdc.gov/zika