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Zika virus

4-minute read

Key facts

  • Zika virus is transmitted mainly through mosquito bites.
  • Symptoms of zika virus are usually mild — most people with the virus don’t have any symptoms at all.
  • Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant person to their baby, which can have serious consequences.
  • There is no vaccine or treatment available for Zika virus. The best prevention is to avoid mosquito bites in areas with known outbreaks.

What is Zika virus?

Zika virus is transmitted mainly through mosquito bites but can also be transmitted sexually. The symptoms are usually mild, however they can be dangerous for your baby if you are pregnant.

The virus was first identified in 1947 and there have been recent outbreaks in South America and the Pacific Islands.

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

What are the symptoms of Zika virus?

Most people with Zika virus don’t have any symptoms. Only 1 in 5 people who get the virus will feel sick, with flu-like symptoms. In some cases it has been known to cause fever, rash, severe headache, joint pain, conjunctivitis (pink eye) and muscle or bone pain.

Symptoms start about 3 to 12 days after infection. A blood or urine test can be done to diagnose the infection.

Symptoms are usually not severe and only last a few days.

How is Zika virus treated?

There is no specific treatment available for Zika virus infection.

If you have the virus, make sure you rest and drink plenty of water. Medicines are available to treat any pain and fever. If your symptoms get worse, see your doctor.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

Can Zika virus be prevented?

The best way to prevent Zika virus 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 available to prevent infection by Zika virus.

Pregnant women and Zika virus infection

If you are pregnant, Zika virus can be passed from you to your 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 this only occurs in a small proportion of people with recent Zika virus infection.

As a precaution, the Department of Health advises anyone who is pregnant or 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.

Which countries have Zika virus outbreaks?

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 some 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

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 you travel to areas with Zika virus, 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: July 2022

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