It usually takes between 3 and 12 days for symptoms of Zika virus infection to appear. Symptoms include fever, headache, rash, muscle or joint pain and conjunctivitis. Most people infected with the virus do not show any signs of infection, while others experience mild symptoms that usually resolve within a week. However, the viral infection can cause more serious disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome (a neurological disorder) and microcephaly (abnormally small head) in babies born to mothers infected during pregnancy.
The virus is generally transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes, which are also known to transmit other infections such as dengue fever and chikungunya. These mosquitoes bite during the day, peaking during early morning and late afternoon/evening. They can be found around and even inside homes. The virus can also be transmitted by an infected pregnant woman to her developing baby and sexually transmitted by an infected man to his partner through semen.
There is no specific treatment for Zika virus. Symptom relief includes rest and hydration. Analgesics, such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) may be recommended to relieve fever and joint pain. For more information, speak to a health care professional.
Zika virus infection can cause severe birth defects (e.g., microcephaly). If you or your partner is pregnant, discuss your travel plans with your healthcare provider. When returning from a Zika-affected area, specific measures should be taken by those wishing to conceive. Consult with your healthcare provider for more guidance.
There is no vaccine or medication to prevent Zika virus infection. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites. The following precautions are therefore recommended:
- Wear light-coloured, full length clothing, a hat and shoes (avoid sandals).
- For better protection, wear clothing impregnated with insect repellent (permethrin).
- Apply insect repellents that contains DEET or icaridin on exposed skin.
- Stay in accommodations that are screened-in, sealed or air conditioned.
- Sleep under a bed net, preferably one treated with insecticide.
To help prevent spreading Zika to uninfected mosquitoes that can spread the virus to other people, continue using mosquito repellent for 3 weeks after your return, even if you do not feel sick.
Furthermore, as sexual transmission of Zika virus is possible, persons travelling to areas where the virus is spreading should take proper measures to protect themselves during sexual intercourse. Condom use is recommended for the full duration of the trip to prevent transmission, and for several months following the return to the home country to protect sexual partners.
If you develop symptoms similar to those described above after returning from a trip, seek medical attention promptly. If you have a fever, consult your doctor immediately and tell him where you have been travelling.