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5 Things You Need to Know About Zika Virus

Feb 01, 2016

Zika Virus is a hot topic around the world right now. Here's what you need to know:

What is Zika Virus?

Recently, the number of Zika cases in Brazil has increased significantly and we are now seeing increased presence of the virus in Mexico and South America.

This is not a new virus. Scientists discovered this virus in 1947 in Uganda. It is a common virus in parts of Africa, Asia, Pacific Islands and parts of South America. Most often, transmission of the virus occurs when mosquitoes bite humans, although it is possible for the virus to be spread through sexual activity. The good news is that Zika is less contagious than a cold.

The Important Facts

  • There are only two ways to contract Zika: you can be bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus or you can get it by having intercourse with someone who is infected.
  • People infected with Zika will have flu-like symptoms (including a high fever, joint pain and a red rash) lasting for a few days.
  • Men and women in their reproductive years (those who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant) are most at risk because the virus can cause significant birth defects.
  • Zika has not been detected in mosquitoes in the U.S., but this could change as spring and summer bring warmer temperatures to the states.
  • To prevent Zika, follow the same steps you would to prevent general mosquito bites. Wear long sleeve shirts and pants and make use of bug sprays with DEET.


The incubation period (time from exposure to the virus to onset of symptoms) is 5 to 12 days. Symptoms include fever, red eyes, skin rash, headaches and joint pains. These symptoms can last for a few days up to one week.

Not everyone infected has symptoms. Most people with Zika recover and have no health problems. However, a small percentage of infected people might have an increased risk for autoimmune disease (the body’s immune system attacks nerve cells). If a pregnant woman is infected early in pregnancy, there is an increased chance of the baby having a very small brain (microcephaly) which can cause life-long problems.

What You Can Do

It is possible that mosquitoes might spread Zika in the U.S. during warm weather months.

Wondering what you can do? Pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant should avoid travel to areas with Zika. Everyone can reduce their risk by wearing long pants and long sleeved shirts, especially when walking outside at dawn and dusk during mosquito season. Using a bug repellent (specifically with DEET) will also offer protection.

If You Have Zika, Protect Others from Getting Sick:

  • During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.
    • To help prevent others from getting sick, strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the first week of illness.
  • Zika virus can be spread during sex by a person infected with Zika to his/her sex partners.
    • We do not know how long the virus can be spread through sex.
    • We do know the virus can stay in semen longer than in blood.
  • To help prevent spreading Zika from sex, you can use condoms, correctly from start to finish, every time you have sex. This includes vaginal, anal and oral (mouth-to-penis, mouth-to-vagina or mouth-to-anus) sex. Not having sex is the only way to be sure that someone does not get sexually transmitted Zika virus.
  • Zika is not the only STI that can be transmitted, so “protection” from acquiring an STI should be used regardless of whether the person is presumed to be Zika-infected or not if one wishes to avoid an STI.
  • For more information about sexual transmission of Zika, see the CDC website.
As always, learn more and keep up to date on Zika information by listening to our PediaCast, or visiting the CDC website.

Featured Expert

Dennis Cunningham
Dennis Cunningham, MD
Infectious Diseases

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