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Zika Virus

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Zika virus disease is an infection that is spread by mosquitoes. Most people who are bitten and catch Zika virus suffer no symptoms at all. Any symptoms are usually mild and last for around a week. These are similar to most viral infections: muscle aches, joint aches, headaches, fever, rash, irritated eyes (conjunctivitis).

Zika virus becomes important only in its threat of danger to pregnant women. An unborn baby can suffer from birth defects, such as having a smaller than normal head size (microcephaly).

Zika does not exist in the UK, but is present in many hot countries. You catch it after a bite from the Aedes mosquito, which may carry the virus. The same mosquitoes can also carry dengue and yellow fever, two serious tropical diseases, so there are lots of reasons to take steps to prevent being bitten. Aedes mosquitoes are active during the daytime, with bites most likely in the early morning or afternoon and evening.

It’s worth being well-informed about the risks wherever you are travelling to. Up-to-date Zika virus maps can be found online, or your doctor's practice nurse or travel health clinic can provide further information.

Zika virus is contagious and can be passed on from an infected individual via sex, including vaginal, anal and oral.

What should I do if I am pregnant or trying to get pregnant?

It’s best to postpone any pregnancy plans if you are travelling to an area with Zika virus, and the risk remains even once you’ve left the area, so avoid getting pregnant for three months after your return, just in case you’ve been bitten. Use regular contraception where possible, such as the daily contraceptive.

If you are already pregnant, and travel to the area is unavoidable, do take all preventative steps to avoid mosquito bites. You can discuss your travel plans with your doctor, midwife or travel clinician. Your doctor may arrange additional ultrasound scans to monitor the growth of your baby to ensure any problems are picked up early.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Preventing mosquito bites is the first line of defence if you are travelling to a part of the world where the Zika virus is endemic. It is advisable to cover up to minimise the amount of skin surface the mosquitos have access to especially in the early morning and afternoon and dusk, as well as using a mosquito night for protection at night.

Using a good insect repellent ideally containing 50% DEET is preferred for better protection. The use of plug-ins repellents indoors may also help. Aerosol sprays versions are easy to apply, however, they must be used in a well-ventilated area, and there is often a lot of wastage of products. A roll-on or a cream product is usually better, such as Jungle Formula Max Strength pump spray.

In case you have been bitten, the use of an antihistamine may help to reduce itch and swelling, either a cream if localised, or a tablet if you have multiple bites. The use of a mild steroid cream such as hydrocortisone 1% may also help if needed.

Always seek local advice when abroad, and be aware of local medical facilities to get the latest advice and help on the ground.

Am I fit for work?

You may be fit for work depending on the severity of your symptoms.

More information

You should speak to your doctor if you are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant and are planning to travel to a country or area with current or previous Zika virus risk.

In this situation, if you get symptoms while already in a Zika virus zone, or soon after returning, contact your doctor, who may organise a test. Prompt testing while symptomatic gives the best chance of picking up a positive result. A test is unlikely to be offered if you may have been exposed but have no symptoms.

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and, if you are comfortable, examine you. Depending on the possible diagnosis, blood or urine tests could be carried out, or you may be referred to a specialist department. The doctor may also prescribe some medication to help with your symptoms.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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