For most people Zika is a very mild infection and isn't harmful. However, it can be more serious for pregnant women; evidence suggests it causes birth defects – in particular a serious defect called microcephaly (incomplete brain development).
Zika does not naturally occur in the UK. Zika outbreaks have been reported in the Pacific region, and the virus has spread to South and Central America and the Caribbean. There is a chance that Zika will spread to all countries in the Americas, with the exception of Chile and Canada.
What we know.
• Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected mosquito. Many areas in the United States have the type of mosquitoes that can spread Zika. These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters and can also bite at night.
• You can also get Zika through sex.
• Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her foetus.
• There is currently no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Zika is linked to birth defects.
Zika infection during pregnancy can cause birth defects. Doctors have also found other problems in pregnancies and among foetuses and infants infected with Zika virus before birth. If you are pregnant and have a partner who lives in or has travelled to an area with Zika, do not have sex, or use condoms every time.
Pregnant women should not travel to areas with Zika.
If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your GP first and strictly follow the steps below to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.
Symptoms of Zika.
Most people don't have any symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and last around two to seven days. Commonly reported symptoms include:
• itching all over the body
• joint pain (with possible swelling, mainly in the smaller joints of the hands and feet)
• muscle pain
• conjunctivitis (red eyes)
• lower back pain
• pain behind the eyes
How Zika is treated
Currently there is no specific treatment for Zika. Drinking plenty of water and taking paracetamol may help relieve symptoms.
If you feel unwell after returning from a country that has malaria as well as active transmission of Zika, you should seek urgent (same day) advice to help rule out a malaria diagnosis. If you remain unwell and malaria has been shown not to be the cause, seek medical advice.
The best way to prevent Zika is to prevent mosquito bites.
• Use EPA-registered insect repellent. It works!
• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
• Stay in places with air-conditioning or window and door screens.
• Remove standing water around your home.
Information taken from NHS Choices & CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).