Although it has been around for decades, Zika virus, which is extremely rare in the United States, has made news in recent years due to outbreaks in the Caribbean and South America. First discovered in 1947, the disease gets its name from Zika forest in Uganda. However, it didn’t appear in humans until 1952, making it a relatively young disease.
Learn more about Zika virus, including its symptoms, how it’s transmitted and related conditions.
What is Zika Virus?
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness. It is typically spread by mosquitoes belonging to the Aedes species. The yellow fever mosquito, or Aedes aegypti, and the Asian tiger mosquito, or Aedes albopictus, are the most common vectors. Both mosquitoes feed during both the day and night.
The yellow fever mosquito originated in Africa and made its way to the United States on ships during the period of exploration and colonization. It lives in tropical and subtropical climates around the world, including the southern United States. These mosquitoes are container breeders and can live and feed in urban areas, putting them in close proximity to humans and increasing the likelihood that they will spread disease.
Like the yellow fever mosquito, the Asian tiger mosquito lives in tropical and subtropical climates and is found worldwide, including Asia, the Caribbean, the Pacific islands, North America, South America and Europe.
In addition to being spread by mosquitoes, Zika virus can also be transmitted from mother to child or through sexual intercourse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people infected with Zika virus will experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Common signs of a Zika infection include:
Symptoms usually appear following an incubation period of a few days and typically last 2–7 days.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that contracting Zika virus during pregnancy may be linked to brain abnormalities, including microcephaly, a condition that results in a smaller-than-average head size and underdeveloped brain at birth.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports a close link between cases of Zika virus and cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition in which a person’s own immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and, in some cases, paralysis.
Where is Zika Virus Found?
Areas with the highest risk for Zika virus include Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific Islands and South America. Travel advisories may be issued to tourists visiting these areas.
Zika virus is extremely rare in the United States and cases inside the country have been travel-related.
There is no vaccine for Zika, but it is possible to treat the symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following:
- Fluids to prevent dehydration
- Medicine like acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain
Patients should avoid NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug). Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that people caring for patients with Zika avoid contact with body fluids and wash their hands regularly.
Mosquito Bite Prevention
The best way to help prevent being bitten by mosquitoes is to reduce mosquito activity. With a little extra vigilance, you can help keep these pests at bay. When you’re outdoors, use a mosquito repellent recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You should also wear long sleeves and pants and avoid outdoor activities during times of peak mosquito activity, including dawn and dusk.
Around your home, you can help reduce mosquitoes by eliminating sources of standing water, keeping your gutters and yard clean and well maintained, and adding screens to windows and doors.