Understanding Zika Virus Made Simple

History of Zika

Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and is named after the Zika Forest in Uganda. In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Zika outbreaks have probably occurred in many locations. Before 2007, at least 14 cases of Zika had been documented, although other cases were likely to have occurred and were not reported. Because the symptoms of Zika are similar to those of many other diseases, many cases may not have been recognized.

How It Is Transmitted

The Zika virus is transmitted to people either by the bite of the Aedes mosquito, from a Zika virus infected mother to her unborn child/fetus, or sexually transmitted from a Zika virus infected person to a pregnant woman (who can then infect her unborn child/fetus).  

Personal Awareness

Be aware of your or your partner’s, pregnancy status if traveling to an area with active Zika in the mosquito population (an area near Miami, FL was added to this list). Pregnant woman who live in or travelled to an area with active Zika in the 1st or 2nd trimester should be tested (by a blood test) for Zika, even if they have not had symptoms.

Zika virus can be spread by a person to a sex partner; if a partner traveled to, or lives in, an area with Zika, the pregnant partners should abstain from all types of sexual intercourse (or correctly use a condom every time throughout the entire pregnancy) to protect the pregnancy from birth defects caused by Zika.

Woman and men who have traveled to an affected area should wait 8 weeks to conceive after their return, while men with symptoms should wait a full six months prior to conceiving because the Zika virus can remain in semen.  

CDC also recommends that woman and men trying for a pregnancy should not travel to areas with active Zika virus at this time (this includes an area near Miami, FL).


If travel to a Zika area is absolutely required for a woman who is pregnant (in any trimester) or a woman or man who are wishing to get pregnant, they should consult their healthcare provider to identify the specific level of risk and take all mosquito bite prevention steps (like treating clothing with permethrin and wearing mosquito repellent).


Aedes mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters, prefer to bite humans, and live both indoors/outdoors. It becomes infected when it feeds on a person already infected with the Zika virus and then spreads the virus to other people. The typical period from the bite to minor symptoms is 2-7 days, about 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus becomes ill, and the virus is in the bloodstream for around a week (can be found longer). 

If you are healthy, not pregnant, and bitten by a Zika infected mosquito, there are typically only believed to be minor symptoms of mild fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. 

What to do if you have Zika

There is no specific medicine or vaccine for Zika virus. Treat the symptoms:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Take medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain.
  • Do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.

Birth Defects

Cases of birth defects (microcephaly, eye disorders/blindness, prematurity, and other neurological deficits) have been linked to mothers exposed to Zika virus. Additionally, a specific type of paralysis (Guillain-Barre Syndrome) may be attributed to Zika and is being further understood. There have been cases of Zika virus from a continental U.S. mosquito (all U.S. cases were from an area near Miami, Florida). 

Mosquito Prevention

Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants treated with permethrin. Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535. Always use as directed. Pregnant and breastfeeding women can use all EPA-registered insect repellents, including DEET, according to the product label. Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents). Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms. Limit standing water around all areas. 


Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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