Though the Zika virus is an old disease, its appearance in the Americas is recent. Before 2014, cases of Zika in the Americas were rare and associated with travel. But, since the disease came to Brazil in 2014, it has spread north and west into more than 20 countries.
The virus spreads through mosquito bites and usually only causes mild symptoms. Despite this, new research from Brazil suggests Zika can cause birth defects in baby’s whose mothers contract the disease while pregnant. The exact nature of these defects and when they are most likely to happen is still under investigation.
There is no vaccine to prevent Zika and no medicine to treat it. Recovery comes through supportive care, like pain-killers, and time passed. The best protection is preventing mosquito bites and avoiding regions where the disease is present.
Zika spreads in two ways, among mosquitoes and among humans. As the disease spreads to more mosquitoes it becomes more likely a mosquito will infect a human being, much like with Dengue fever. Research suggests Zika is spread almost exclusively from mosquitoes to humans. One case of person-to-person spread through sex and another through blood transfusion are under investigation.
Zika, Dengue and chikungunya are all spread by the same type of mosquito and can be found in similar environments. But, not everywhere with Dengue has Zika. As travellers or mosquitoes move from one area to another, that zone can become infected. Either a human withe disease will pass it to a mosquito or a mosquito to a human.
Pregnant mothers infected with the virus can pass Zika on to their child, but researchers believe this to be only in rare instances. There are no reports of Zika contamination through breast feeding.
Though Zika is often a light infection, there are some possibly serious side effects. Only about 1-in-5 of those infected with the virus become sick. Symptoms are generally mild and lasting several days to a week. Severe illness is uncommon and deaths are rare.
Zika virus symptoms include:
- Joint pain
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Muscle pain
Visit your healthcare provider if you develop symptoms after visiting an area with Zika. This is especially if you are pregnant or may become pregnant.
Even though Zika is rarely fatal, it has no vaccine nor cure. The best to prevent the virus is by protecting yourself from mosquito bites. The Public Health Agency recommends:
- Consulting your International Health Passport Travel specialist, at least six weeks before leaving
- Uses insect repellents and wear protective clothing like long shirts and pants.
- Using bednets and keeping possible mosquito entry-points closed
Avoid non-essential travel to areas affected by Zika if you are pregnant or may become pregnant.
Various countries and global organizations are working toward a Zika vaccine. But, this research is still in its early stages, according to a recent CBC report. We will update this section as more information becomes available.
Data suggests Zika can be communicated from a pregnant mother to her unborn child. Research shows the virus may cause microcephaly (the shrinking of a baby’s head) and other health complications. The affects of Zika on pregnant mothers and their children are still under investigation.
The PHA recommends pregnant mothers and those considering pregnancy talk with a health care provider about their plans before travelling. Consider postponing travel to areas where Zika is circulating. If travel cannot be postponed, be sure to take all available precautions in avoiding mosquitoes and their bites.
According to the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Public Health Agency, Zika virus can be found in the following countries:
This list is updated regularly to reflect the most up-to-date Zika virus location information.
If traveling to these areas, be sure to take precautions against mosquito bites. Visit your International Health Travel Clinic before you go to discuss your protection options and assess your risk of contracting the disease.