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Zika virus and microcephaly

Zika virus and microcephaly
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Zika virus

3 min read

Zika virus is transmitted mainly through mosquito bites. The symptoms are usually mild, but there are worries about whether it might be dangerous for pregnant women. Here’s information about Zika and what to do if you plan to travel overseas.

What is Zika virus?

The Zika virus is spread through the types of mosquitoes that carry dengue and yellow fever. It might also be transmitted sexually.

The virus was first identified in 1947, but has recently gained attention because of new outbreaks in countries such as Brazil, and reported links between the virus and various birth defects.

Public health authorities around the world are closely monitoring the spread of Zika virus.

Zika virus symptoms and treatment

Most people with Zika virus don’t notice anything. Some feel like they have the flu. In some cases it has been known to cause fever, rash, severe headache, joint pain and muscle or bone pain.

Any symptoms come on about 3 to 12 days after infection. A blood test can be used to diagnose the infection.

If you have the virus, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water and treat any pain and fever as you normally would. If your symptoms gets worse, see your doctor.

Can Zika virus be prevented?

The best prevention is to avoid mosquito bites in areas with known outbreaks. Mosquito bites can be avoided by wearing long-sleeved clothing, using insect repellents and bed nets and sleeping in rooms that are enclosed or air-conditioned.

There is no vaccine to prevent infection by Zika virus.

Pregnant women and Zika virus infection

It is likely that Zika virus causes microcephaly. This is a condition in which the baby is born with a small head and intellectual disability.

As a precaution, the Department of Health advises pregnant women and women planning pregnancy to consider delaying travelling to countries where the virus outbreak has been detected.

Read more about the Zika virus and pregnancy on the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby website.

What countries have Zika?

It is most prominent in South America and Central America. Outbreaks have also been reported in Thailand and in the Pacific nations of Samoa, New Caledonia and Tonga.

Check the Department of Health’s up-to-date list with countries with current or local transmission of Zika virus.

There have been no reported cases of Zika being contracted in Australia, although there have been a handful of cases of travellers returning with the virus from overseas in recent years.

Guidelines for travellers

If you are planning to travel overseas, consult appropriate travel health advice and check the Zika virus bulletin at

If you have recently returned from overseas and want to donate blood, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service has updated information at donating after travelling.

If travel is unavoidable, you should follow guidelines to prevent mosquito bites, such as using insect repellent, wearing light-coloured clothes that cover as much of the body as possible, staying indoors and sleeping under mosquito nets.

Last reviewed: April 2016

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