Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that has gained significant attention due to its association with severe birth defects and neurological complications. This guide provides essential information about Zika virus, its transmission, symptoms, prevention, and treatment.

What is Zika Virus?

Zika virus is primarily transmitted to humans through the bites of infected Aedes mosquitoes, particularly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. These mosquitoes are also known to spread dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947, but significant outbreaks have occurred in the Americas, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Electron micrograph (TEM) of Zika virus particles coloured blue

Transmission of Zika Virus

Zika virus can be transmitted in several ways:

  1. Mosquito Bites: The most common mode of transmission is through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito.
  2. Mother to Child: A pregnant woman can pass Zika virus to her fetus during pregnancy, which can result in severe birth defects.
  3. Sexual Transmission: Zika can be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person.
  4. Blood Transfusion: There have been reports of Zika virus being transmitted through blood transfusions.
  5. Laboratory Exposure: Rare cases of laboratory-acquired infections have been documented.
    Life cycle of the Zika Viriu showing the transmission pathways

Symptoms of Zika Virus

Most people infected with Zika virus do not develop symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and last for 2-7 days. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Muscle and Joint Pain
  • Headache

Severe complications are rare but can include Guillain-Barré syndrome (a neurological disorder) and other neurological conditions.

Infographgic showing the symptoms of Zika Virus .Credit: Beth Herlin

Zika Virus and Pregnancy

The most concerning aspect of Zika virus is its impact on pregnancy. Zika infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly (a severe birth defect where a baby's head is smaller than expected) and other congenital abnormalities. Pregnant women are advised to take extra precautions to avoid Zika virus infection.

Diagnosing Zika Virus

Diagnosis of Zika virus is based on symptoms, recent travel history, and laboratory tests. Blood and urine tests can confirm the presence of Zika virus or antibodies.

Preventing Zika Virus

Prevention focuses on avoiding mosquito bites and reducing mosquito populations. Here are some effective strategies:

  1. Avoid Mosquito Bites:

    • Use Repellents: Apply insect repellents containing DEET, Picaridin, or IR3535 to exposed skin.
    • Wear Protective Clothing: Long sleeves, long trousers, socks, and closed-toe shoes provide a physical barrier. Anti-mosquito clothing provides extra protection through insect repellent directly applied to the fabric. 
    • Use Mosquito Nets: Sleep under insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) to prevent bites while sleeping.
    • Stay Indoors During Peak Activity: Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. Stay indoors or take precautions during these times.
      Woman applying DEET insect repellent spray to her skin to prevent insect and mosquito bites
  2. Eliminate Mosquito Breeding Sites:

    • Remove Standing Water: Empty and clean containers that collect water, such as flower pots, buckets, and bird baths.
    • Maintain Clean Surroundings: Keep your environment clean to reduce mosquito breeding sites.
  3. Travel Precautions:

    • Check Travel Advisories: Before traveling to areas with Zika virus transmission, check travel advisories and take necessary precautions.
    • Pregnant Women: Pregnant women should avoid traveling to areas with active Zika virus transmission. If travel is necessary, strict mosquito bite prevention measures should be followed.
  4. Safe Sexual Practices:

    • Use Condoms: To prevent sexual transmission of Zika virus, use condoms consistently and correctly.
    • Abstain from Sex: Pregnant women with partners who live in or have traveled to areas with Zika virus should abstain from sex or use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy.

Treating Zika Virus

There is no specific antiviral treatment for Zika virus. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms:

  • Rest: Get plenty of rest.
  • Hydration: Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Pain Relief: Use acetaminophen (paracetamol) to reduce fever and pain. Avoid aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) until dengue is ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding.

Zika Virus Conclusion

Zika virus is a serious health concern, especially for pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant. By understanding the modes of transmission, symptoms, and preventive measures, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from Zika virus. Stay informed, take precautions, and seek medical advice if you suspect Zika virus infection.

For more information on Zika virus prevention and treatment, consult your healthcare provider or visit reputable health websites such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).