Zika virus outbreak

8 February 2016

Which countries are affected?

The Zika virus was originally found in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. In May, 2015, the first confirmed Zika infection was documented in Brazil. Currently, outbreaks are occurring in many countries including Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, U.S. Virgin Islands, Venezuela, Samoa and Cape Verde. Affected area updates are found on the CDC website.

How is Zika spread?

People can contract Zika by being bitten by an infected Aedes species mosquito – the same type of mosquito that spreads dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever.

Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its Zika virus guidance for pregnant women, advising them to protect themselves if their male sexual partner has travelled to or lives in an area where Zika virus is circulating.

Diagnosis of Zika virus infection

Zika virus usually causes mild or no signs of illness, with symptoms appearing a few days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People with Zika virus disease may report a mild fever and rash. Others may also get conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and feel tired. The symptoms usually end within two to seven days.

If you feel sick and think you may have Zika:

  • Talk to your doctor or nurse if you develop a fever with a rash, joint pain, or red eyes. Tell him or her about any recent travel.
  • Medicine, such as acetaminophen or paracetamol, may be used to relieve fever and pain. Do not take aspirin, products containing aspirin, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
  • Get extra rest and drink plenty of liquids. 
  • Try to prevent additional mosquito bites. 

Diagnosis is usually based on a patient’s symptoms and recent history (e.g. mosquito bites and travel to an area where Zika is known to be present). Laboratory testing of blood may be able to confirm the diagnosis depending on the timing of the testing.

What precautions can be taken?

There is currently no vaccine for Zika. The best protection is preventing mosquito bites. This can be done by using insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535; wearing clothes (preferably light-colored) that cover as much of the body as possible and are permethrin-treated; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors, and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets. It is also important to empty, clean, or cover containers that can hold even small amounts of water, such as buckets, flower pots, or tires, to deter mosquito breeding.

Should pregnant women be concerned about Zika?

Health authorities are currently investigating a potential link between Zika in pregnant women and microcephaly, such as abnormal smallness of the foetus’s head.

The CDC suggests that women who are pregnant consider postponing travel to any area where Zika transmission has been reported. If you are pregnant and must travel to one of these areas, talk to your doctor first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bitesduring your trip.

Women who are trying to become pregnant should talk with their doctor about travel plans to areas where Zika has been reported.

If you are pregnant and suspect that you may have contracted Zika, consult your doctor for close monitoring during your pregnancy.

Where can I learn more about Zika?

Based on available evidence, WHO is not recommending any travel or trade restrictions related to Zika. As a precautionary measure, some national governments have made public health and travel recommendations to their own populations, based on their assessments of the available evidence and local risk factors.

Travellers should stay informed about Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases and consult their local health or travel authorities if they are concerned.

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