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HealthSheets™

Understanding Zika

Zika is a virus. It is transmitted by mosquitoes. It was first discovered in the Zika Forest of Uganda in 1947. For many decades, it was thought to be a rare cause of infection. It was found only in small areas of Africa, the Yap Islands in the Pacific, and Easter Island. But in April 2015, it was found in Brazil. It has since spread quickly to many countries in South and Central America, and to the Caribbean and Mexico. Experts aren’t sure why.

A number of cases have also been found in the U.S. Most of these people got the virus while visiting other parts of the world where mosquitoes are spreading it. But very recently experts reported that the virus had been spread by mosquitoes in the U.S. 

How to say it

ZEE-kuh

What causes Zika?

The Zika virus is mostly passed on by the bite of the mosquito species Aedes. Pregnant women who have it can also give it to their unborn child. It may also be transmitted through sexual contact and blood transfusion. But experts know so little about the virus that they are still learning all the ways it can be passed on.

Symptoms of Zika

Most people infected with the Zika virus have no symptoms. For the 1 out of 5 people who do have symptoms, they are usually very mild. They last 5 to 7 days and then go away completely. They may include:

  • Fever

  • Rash

  • Headache

  • Joint and muscle pain

  • Conjunctivitis, when the eyes become red, irritated, and inflamed

Treatment for Zika

There is no medicine to cure the Zika virus. Treatment is aimed at easing symptoms. Treatments include: 

  • Rest. You may feel better more quickly if you get plenty of rest.

  • Fluids. Drinking lots of fluids will help you stay hydrated. Water and sports drinks are good choices. Avoid alcohol and drinks with caffeine.

  • Medicine. Acetaminophen can help ease fever and pain.

Possible complications of Zika 

  • Microcephaly in newborns. Pregnant women who are infected with Zika can pass it on to their unborn child. This is true even if the woman has no symptoms. These children may be born with microcephaly. This birth defect causes a smaller than normal head and a less developed brain. It can lead to developmental problems, learning disabilities, and neurological problems.

  • Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults. This disease causes severe muscle weakness or paralysis. 

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse

  • New symptoms

© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.