UNC Health Care

5 Things You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

Zika Test equipment a needle and vials to contain blood.
People infected with the virus may experience a rash, fever, joint pain and redness in the eyes. The illness is usually mild, with symptoms lasting a few days to a week.

The Zika virus (pronounced zee-ka) has been in the national news a lot lately due, in part, to a travel alert related to its spread. In Brazil, it was recently linked to a rise in cases of microcephaly – a birth defect characterized by an undersized skull and brain. Scientists are still trying to better understand the possible connection between the increase in Zika virus infections and the increase in microcephaly cases. But concern is strong enough that in January 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Zika virus travel alert recommending pregnant women not travel to areas of virus transmission.

While experts currently think the virus poses a small risk to people in the United States, it’s important to learn more about this mosquito-borne virus:

What is Zika?

Zika is a virus originally discovered in Africa. People infected with the virus may have no symptoms at all, or may experience a rash, fever, joint pain and redness in the eyes. The illness is usually mild, with symptoms lasting a few days to a week.

How is Zika transmitted?

The virus is primarily spread through bites from a mosquito species commonly found in the countries where Zika is present.

Where has Zika been found?

Active transmission of Zika has been found in more than 25 countries, mostly in Central and South America.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who hasn’t previously had the virus can be infected. While there’s no evidence pregnant women are more susceptible to the virus than others, their infections are of greatest concern because the virus can be transferred to babies still in the womb.

How can I avoid being infected?

Asian Tiger Mosquito
Asian Tiger Mosquito: a vector for Zika Virus, amongst others.

A Zika vaccine isn’t currently available, but scientists are working to develop one. For now, the CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid travel to countries where active Zika virus transmission is present. Women who may become pregnant should talk with their health care provider before traveling to these areas. Precautions recommended for anyone who travels to an area where Zika virus is spreading include using EPA-approved insect repellents; wearing clothing treated with permethrin that covers your arms and legs; and spending time in air-conditioned spaces or those with window and door screens that keep out mosquitoes.