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Zika Virus Infection

Zika is a virus that is mainly spread by infected mosquito bites. The virus can also spread from unprotected sex with an infected person and from an infected pregnant person to their baby. 

Learn more about this disease and ways to protect yourself and your loved ones.

What is Zika virus?

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus similar to yellow fever and West Nile virus. The virus spreads mainly through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus species).

Zika can also be passed through unprotected sex with someone infected with Zika or from an infected pregnant person to their baby. Zika infection during pregnancy may cause serious brain defects including microcephaly, in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected upon birth.   

It’s also possible to pass Zika through blood transfusions (when someone gets blood from another person), but the chance of getting it is low. 

Outbreaks of Zika have been reported in North America, South America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. As of December 2023, there have been no confirmed Zika cases reported within the U.S. territories since 2019. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keep an updated list of countries where Zika outbreaks have occurred.

What are the symptoms of Zika virus?

Many people infected with Zika don’t have symptoms, so they often don’t know they have the virus.   

Those who do get sick usually experience mild symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint pain or body aches
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite

The time between a Zika virus exposure to symptom onset can be three to 14 days with the symptoms then lasting two to seven days. See your health care provider if you have recently traveled to an area with a risk of Zika and start having any of these symptoms.

Are there any complications if I catch Zika?

Zika infection during pregnancy may lead to serious complications. Zika may cause serious birth defects and other concerns, such as eye problems, hearing loss and seizures. Because of the risk of birth defects, pregnant people should avoid travel to areas with a risk of Zika. 

In rare cases, people with Zika may trigger sicknesses of the nervous system such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, an illness where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its nerves. 

How is Zika virus diagnosed?

Zika infection is diagnosed with blood or urine (pee) tests. 

What is the treatment for Zika virus?

There are no medications available to treat a Zika infection. Your health care provider can help manage the symptoms. They may recommend:

  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Taking medicine for pain and fever

The CDC gives steps to protect yourself if you are caring for a person with Zika.

What should I do if I am pregnant (or think I might be pregnant) and have been exposed to Zika?

Talk to your health care provider immediately regarding testing if you have traveled to an area where Zika is active and/or if you have come into contact with the Zika virus. 

If you’re pregnant and test positive for Zika, your provider might refer you to a specialist for further care and support. The specialist will monitor your pregnancy closely and test your baby for Zika virus infection.

What can I do to prevent Zika virus?

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to avoid traveling to areas where outbreaks happen. 

If you are considering traveling to an area with a risk of Zika, talk to your health care provider about the risks, the ways to protect yourself and the signs of illness.

If you’re traveling to an area where Zika is found, take these steps to prevent mosquito bites:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Sleep under a mosquito net.
  • Keep windows closed in air-conditioned homes or install window and door screens.
  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent with 10%-30% DEET or picaridin. Don’t use repellent on babies younger than two months old. 
  • Get rid of standing water in places like buckets, birdbaths and trash containers.

Because it is possible for Zika to be transmitted through sex, take the following steps recommended by the CDC to protect yourself and your partner:

  • If a male partner travels to an area with a Zika outbreak, use condoms or don’t have sex for at least three months after you leave the area. To be effective, use condoms from start to finish every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex.
  • If only a female partner travels to an area with a Zika outbreak, use condoms or don’t have unprotected sex for at least two months after travel.

Learn more about Zika virus

Call your health care provider with questions or concerns about the Zika virus. For more information, see these resources from the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO).