Zika Virus Information

Zika is an infection caused by Zika virus which is spread via the bite of an Aedes mosquito. It is found in parts of Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands and more recently in Central and South America and the Caribbean, however it is likely to continue to spread to new regions in the future. It causes a generally mild infection which is usually not harmful, however the Zika virus infection may present an increased risk for certain groups of the population, including pregnant ladies. There is strong evidence of an association between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome and more notably microcephaly (an abnormally small head in newborn babies linked to incomplete brain development) as well as other congenital malformations. There is no specific treatment for Zika virus, there is currently no vaccine available and all travellers to areas with transmission are at risk of the disease even if they are short term visitors. It is therefore critical that travellers are aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease, how it is transmitted and current advice on how to reduce risk of transmission and reduce potential complications.

Signs & Symptoms:

The majority of patients infected by Zika have no symptoms. When symptoms are present, they are usually mild, last between 2-7 days and include a combination of:
  • Skin rashes
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Malaise
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Itchy skin

Transmission:

Zika virus is transmitted via the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. Unlike the mosquito that transmits malaria, the Aedes mosquito is most active during the day, particularly during early morning and late evenings/dusk. Other methods of transmission including via blood transfusions and sexual intercourse is currently being researched.

Prevention & Advice:

All travellers planning trips to an area with Zika transmission should seek travel health advice from their GP or travel clinic, particularly pregnant ladies, those with long term medical conditions and those with a weakened immune system.

Bite Prevention

Scrupulous protection against mosquito bites during daytime and night-time hours is the single most effective measure at reducing the risk of Zika virus. This can be done by using physical barriers such as closing windows, using insect repellent impregnated mosquito nets and wearing loose clothing that covers as much visible skin as possible. This should be done alongside using chemical barriers such as applying insect repellents on exposed skin containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) at a concentration of between 20-50%. This should be applied after sunscreen and re-applied regularly according to product label instructions. DEET can be used safely in pregnancy and breastfeeding as well as infants above the age of 2 months.

Sexual Transmission

There have been several documented cases of Zika transmission via sexual intercourse. There is also increasing evidence that the virus can be transmitted from mother to foetus via the placenta. It is therefore essential that pregnant women and their partners if travelling through an area where there is a risk of Zika, should practice safer sex (using barrier methods such as condoms and using reliable contraceptives) or abstain from sexual activity throughout the pregnancy. Those planning to conceive should abstain from intercourse for 8 weeks after return from a Zika area if not symptomatic and for 6 months if symptomatic. All travellers should abstain from sexual activity or practice safer sex for 8 weeks after return from an area where Zika is transmitted even if they are feeling well and have no symptoms. Furthermore, women who have fallen pregnant in an area where Zika is transmitted or 28 days after return should seek urgent medical advice from their GP even if they are feeling well and have no symptoms of infection.