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Overview of Zika Virus: Symptoms, causes, and treatments

Dr. Ajay KohliApr 19, 2024

Zika fever, also known as Zika Virus infection, has been reported in several tropical and subtropical regions. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of infection vary with location over time. However, the virus causes no or mild illness in most people. The consequence of infection is more devastating for pregnant women who are at an increased risk of miscarriage or are likely to have babies with serious birth defects. In the absence of a specific vaccine or drug, acute Zika infection is managed through supportive care, though preventing mosquito bites is ideal for curbing Zika transmission




What is the Zika Virus? 

Zika Virus is a flavivirus related to the dengue and Japanese encephalitis viruses, which are often carried to humans by the bite of the Aedes mosquito. However, other modes of transmission are also possible. 

Signs and symptoms of Zika Virus

An estimated 4 of the 5 people infected with the Zika Virus do not exhibit symptoms at all. But for those who show symptoms, the illness is mild, like first-time dengue fever, which lasts several days to a week. 

Symptoms usually appear 3 to 14 days after the mosquito bite and may include the following.

Hospitalisation and death are uncommon with this infection. Yet, it can lead to serious and fatal complications.


Causes of Zika Virus

In most cases, people get the Zika Virus primarily through the bites of an infected female Aedes aegypti or A. albopictus mosquito. These mosquitoes are usually active during day hours and can even transmit dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever. 

But there are other routes where the risk of Zika transmission is likely, albeit low:

  • From mother to foetus during pregnancy but not through breastfeeding

  • Possibly through blood transfusion and organ transplantation

  • Through sexual intercourse with an affected partner 

However, once you are infected, your immunity is long-lasting, and you're protected from future infections. Also, there is no evidence that previous Zika Virus infection can increase the risk of birth defects in future pregnancies.

Types of Zika diseases

While anyone can contract Zika, the main reason the virus has recently aroused the concern of the medical community is the pregnancy complications it causes. At an early stage of pregnancy, Zika Virus infection can cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which the baby is born with a smaller-than-normal head and an underdeveloped brain. 

Additionally, seizures, hearing loss, intellectual disabilities, eye abnormalities, movement and balance problems, and difficulty in swallowing may be present in severe forms of Zika-related congenital malformations like Congenital Zika syndrome. 

Several studies have also indicated a strong association between Zika Virus infection and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a serious and rare neurological complication characterised by muscular weakness and paralysis.

Treatment for Zika Virus

At present, there is no drug or vaccine to cure Zika Virus infection or its associated outcomes. Although, the illness is managed through supportive care.

As per the CDC, people who have symptoms should follow these tips: 

  • Get plenty of rest 

  • Drink plenty of fluids  

  • Take common medicines to treat pain and fever 

  • Seek medical care and advice if symptoms worsen

If you are pregnant, live in a Zika-affected area, or have developed symptoms, seek medical attention to understand your risks. 

Diagnosis of Zika Virus

Testing is imperative if you are pregnant and may have been exposed to the Zika Virus through a mosquito bite or have recently travelled to an area with a risk of Zika. In such a scenario, molecular testing of blood and urine samples within 14 days of the onset of symptoms is usually done to confirm an infection. 

A positive result means you can pass the virus to your baby or sexual partner or mosquitoes, which can bite others to spread the virus. 

On the other hand, having a negative outcome rules out the diagnosis of acute infection.

Apart from the molecular test, your doctor may also recommend:

  • Immunological tests to detect IgM antibodies in response to the virus

  • An ultrasound of the foetal brain 

  • Amniocentesis (involves removal of amniotic fluid) for the presence of Zika Virus 

How can I prevent Zika Virus?

The best method of defence to prevent Zika Virus infection is to stay away from travelling to Zika-affected areas. However, if travelling is unavoidable, the general recommendation is to protect yourself and others from mosquito bites.

Some basic measures one can take to protect themselves include:

  • Use of insect repellent as per manufacturer's instructions

  • Wearing loose and light-coloured clothing that covers your arms and legs

  • Staying in air-conditioned rooms to keep mosquitoes outside

  • Use of mosquito bed net if sleeping during the day

  • Covering a baby's crib, stroller, or carrier with mosquito netting

  • Getting rid of mosquito breeding sites that contain stagnant water like planters, buckets, birdbaths, used tires, or trash containers

Other measures to follow are:

  • Avoid travelling to any area with Zika outbreaks

  • Practise safer sex by using condoms correctly or abstain from sex to prevent sexual transmission when showing symptoms suggestive of Zika Virus infection or when staying or travelling to an area affected by Zika Virus

  • Avoid blood donation for 28 days or until the risk has passed after returning from Zika-affected areas

  • Pregnant women and women trying to conceive should consult with the doctor about the risks and potential consequences of Zika infection before travelling to high-risk areas

Risk factors of Zika Virus

Some key factors that can increase your risk of catching the Zika Virus include:

  • Travelling or residing in regions with a high risk of Zika Virus transmission

  • Having unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to Zika Virus.

What are the major complications of the Zika Virus I may face if I am pregnant?


There is scientific agreement that if a woman becomes infected with the Zika Virus during pregnancy or around the time of conception, there's a possibility that babies can develop a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly, or in rare cases, Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Who should be tested for the Zika Virus?


Zika Virus testing is only recommended if you are pregnant or if you have travelled to a country where the Zika Virus is endemic, or the outbreak is ongoing.

Can the Zika Virus kill you?


Zika infection is not harmful to most people and hardly ever kills. However, its link to significant birth defects and autoimmune diseases is troubling.

Is it possible to spread the Zika Virus to another person if I am not in a mosquito-infested area?


Usually, the Zika Virus occurs in tropical regions where the Aedes mosquito population is dense. However, person-to-person transmission is possible if a person infected with Zika travels to an area without the virus and then transmits the infection to their partner through sexual intercourse.

If a woman contracts the virus or shows symptoms, how long should she wait before trying to get pregnant?


The CDC recommends women wait at least 2 months after the onset of symptoms before trying to become pregnant. For men, this waiting period is usually longer, 3 months, because Zika remains in semen longer than other body fluids.






Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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