Zika virus is transmitted mainly through mosquito bites. The symptoms are usually mild, but there it can be dangerous for the unborn child of pregnant women. Here’s information about Zika and what to do if you plan to travel overseas.
What is Zika virus?
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 have any symptoms. Only one in five people who get the virus will feel sick – 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 get 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 and no medicine to treat it.
Pregnant women and Zika virus infection
Zika virus can be passed from a woman to her unborn baby. This can cause potentially serious consequences for the baby, in particular microcephaly, a condition in which the baby is born with a small head and intellectual disability.
Zika virus is also associated with a rare paralysing condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, although only a small proportion of people with recent Zika virus infection get the syndrome.
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 Department of Health’s website.
What countries have Zika?
There is a risk of Zika in parts of Africa, South and Central America, Asia, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, and in Mexico.
For an up to date list of countries with a risk of Zika, go to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
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 smartraveller.org.au.
If you have recently returned from overseas and want to donate blood, the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood 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.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: March 2018