The Zika virus is the cause of Zika fever, a mosquito-borne infection found in various tropical areas. Until about 2007, this was a rare disease and geographically confined to a few parts of Africa and Asia. However, since then it has spread and by 2015 it reached epidemic levels in much of South America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Zika is quite dangerous for pregnant women since it can severely damage the baby. Some governments (Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Jamaica) are recommending that their residents avoid pregnancy for the next few years, and many governments recommend that women who are or might become pregnant avoid travel to areas where Zika is a risk.
Zika is transmitted mainly by mosquitoes, but it can also be transmitted mother-to-child in the womb and man-to-woman during sex. It is not known whether other sexual transmission is possible.
Only about one person in five infected with the virus develops symptoms. For those that do, Zika is generally a fairly mild infection, about like a severe flu, often with a fever, a rash and/or inflammation of the eyes. Symptoms typically last less than a week, and no fatalities have ever been reported. There is no vaccine, no drug that prevents infection, no cure other than waiting it out, and no treatment that will eliminate the virus. All the doctors can do is advise rest and fluids, and possibly prescribe drugs for the pain and fever.
If you suspect a Zika infection, see a doctor rather than self-medicating. Zika is easily confused with Chikungunya or with dengue fever, diseases caused by related viruses carried by the same genus of mosquito, with similar symptoms and a similar geographic distribution. If what you have is dengue, then taking some common over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin and ibuprofin will increase the risk of dangerous complications.
Two sources for extensive information on Zika are:
As of Jan 30, 2016 the CDC's list of countries with a Zika-related travel advisory is:
- South America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela
- Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama
- Caribbean: Barbados, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, U.S. Virgin Islands
- Other: Mexico, Samoa, Cape Verde
Note that these lists change often; at least eight of the countries mentioned above were added to CDC's lists in late January. There is no guarantee our list is up to date.
Note also that, even for pregnant women, this is not yet at the critical warning level. CDC use a three-point scale for their warnings:
- take normal precautions
- avoid travel if possible, and take enhanced precautions if you do go
- avoid all non-essential travel
So far, Zika is only at Level 2. Enhanced precautions for Zika mean taking great care to avoid mosquito bites — screened windows, mosquito nets, clothing that covers most of your skin, permethrin-treated_fabrics, and insect repellents.