Zika virus

About Zika virus

Zika virus disease is caused by the Zika virus. For most people, it causes a very mild infection and no long-term problems.

However, it may be harmful in pregnancy as it can lead to complications and birth defects in the baby. In particular, abnormally small heads (microcephaly).

Where is Zika virus found?

Zika virus does not naturally occur in the UK.

Zika virus has been reported in the following areas:

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Australia and the Pacific region
  • Caribbean
  • Central America
  • South America
  • North America

Symptoms of Zika virus infection

Most people don't have any symptoms when they are infected with Zika virus. If symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and start 3 to 14 days after the infection has been caught. Symptoms last around 2 to 7 days.

Commonly reported symptoms include:

  • rash
  • itching all over the body
  • fever
  • headache
  • joint pain (with possible swelling, mainly in the smaller joints of the hands and feet)
  • muscle pain
  • conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • lower back pain
  • pain behind the eyes

How Zika virus infection is treated

There is no specific treatment for the symptoms of Zika virus.

Drinking plenty of water and taking paracetamol may help to relieve symptoms.

Urgent advice: Speak to your GP or call 111 if:

  • you feel unwell after returning from a country that has malaria as well as Zika virus

The symptoms of Zika virus and malaria can be similar so it is important to rule out malaria.

How you catch Zika virus infection

Zika virus is mainly spread by mosquito bites. Unlike the mosquitoes that spread malaria, this type of mosquito mainly bites during the day from sunrise to sunset.

If a woman is infected when she is pregnant, the virus can spread to the baby and may cause harm. This is called ‘Congential Zika Syndrome’.

Less commonly, Zika virus can be spread from:

  • a person with the infection to another during unprotected sex
  • through blood transfusions or organ transplants

Reducing Zika virus infection

If you are planning international travel you can use this A to Z guide to check if your destination has Zika virus.

There is no vaccine or medicine to prevent Zika virus infection.

In a country with a risk of Zika virus, you can reduce your risk of catching the virus by avoiding mosquito bites.

Pregnant women should avoid or postpone non-essential travel to areas with a risk of Zika virus transmission.

If you are going abroad, you can get information on the risk of Zika virus in your destination on websites such as:

These websites will also provide detailed travel advice for anyone going abroad.

Preventing mosquito bites

Avoiding mosquito bites is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of Zika virus infection.

The most effective bite prevention methods should be used during daytime and night-time hours.

There are some steps you can take to avoid mosquito bites.

Do

  • cover your skin with light, long-sleeved clothing, and long trousers, dresses or skirts
  • apply insect repellent to any skin that is not covered by clothing, including your face and neck
  • remember to reapply insect repellent frequently and after sunscreen has been applied
  • rest or sleep under a mosquito net that’s been treated with an insecticide
  • use effective air conditioning indoors
  • make sure window/door screens are closed when you are indoors

The most effective repellents contain 50% diethyltoluamide (DEET). These can be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Further information on mosquito bite prevention is available from the fitfortravel or National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) websites.

Advice for pregnant women

Zika virus infection in pregnant women is a cause of birth defects in the baby, including microcephaly (abnormally small head). This can be associated with abnormal brain development. It is also known as congenital Zika syndrome.

Zika virus infection can also cause pregnancy complications, including stillbirth or premature delivery.

It is recommended that pregnant women avoid or postpone non-essential travel to areas with a risk of Zika virus until after pregnancy.

If you do plan to travel, discuss this with your midwife, obstetrician or a travel clinic.

If travel is unavoidable, there are actions you can take to help avoid infection.

Do

  • take extra care to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes
  • use condoms during vaginal, anal and oral sex while travelling and during your pregnancy
  • see your GP or midwife if you have recently returned from an area with Zika virus and tell them where you have been, even if you have not been unwell

Your midwife or hospital doctor will discuss the risk with you and advise whether you need any additional tests.

Advice for women trying to get pregnant

If you are trying to get pregnant, discuss your travel plans with your GP, practice nurse or travel clinic.

It is recommended that women avoid unprotected sex and starting a pregnancy while travelling in an area with Zika virus. You should also avoid unprotected sex and starting a pregnancy for 8 weeks (if a woman) or 3 months (if a man) after you return home.

What if I'm worried that my unborn baby has been affected by Zika?

Speak to your midwife or doctor for advice if you're worried that your unborn baby may be affected by Zika virus. If you are still concerned after receiving assurances you can ask for counselling. Counselling can also be offered if you feel more stressed or anxious than usual.

Zika virus and blood donation

You should wait 28 days to donate blood after travelling to an area with Zika virus. These guidelines are set out by the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

If you want to know whether any recent foreign travel temporarily prevents you from giving blood, visit the Scotblood website. You can also call their National Contact Centre on 0345 90 90 999.

Zika virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome

Zika virus is a cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a serious condition of the nervous system.

The risk of developing GBS following a Zika virus infection is very low.

Information about you

If you have had Zika virus, your clinical team may give your details to the National Congenital Anomaly and Rare Diseases Registration Service (NCARDRS).

This helps scientists look for better ways to prevent and treat this condition. You can opt out of the register at any time.

Find out more about the register.

Further reading

UK Government: Zika virus: travel advice

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: Zika virus infection and pregnancy

World Health Organization: Zika Virus

fitfortravel: Zika Virus Infection

Travel Health Pro: Zika virus