Zika Fever

What is Zika Fever?

Zika fever (often called Zika Virus Diesease) is an infectious disease caused by the Zika virus.

The Zika virus is most commonly transmitted through the bite of an infected aedes aegypti mosquito (also known as yellow fever mosquito) that originated in Africa but that can also be found in other tropical and subtropical regions.

The virus can also spread from one individual to another through sex and blood transfusion even before the symptoms appear or after they disappear. The virus is present in the blood but also in the semen, urine and vaginal fluids. Additionally, a mother can pass the virus to the fetus during pregnancy.

Most cases of Zika fever present no symptoms. The disease is similar to dengue fever, which is also carried by the same mosquito but the symptoms are rarely as strong.

Zika Virus disease may lead to fever, rash and joint pain which usually last for seven days or less. The disease has not caused any deaths but the infection during pregnancy may cause microcephaly and other brain malformations in the baby. Zika fever is correlated to an increased risk of developing Guillian-Barré Syndrome (a very rare autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerve cells) but the link still needs to be proven and is currently being investigated.

Although the disease is known since the 1940’s and several cases have been documented in Africa and Asia, two major outbreaks, in 2007 (Micronesia) and 2016 (Latin America),  triggered international concern and travel alerts (parts of Africa, the Caribbean,  Central America, South America and some Pacific Islands) especially in the light of the studies that pointed out a connection between the virus and microcephaly in newborns.

What are the Symptoms of Zika Fever?

If present, the most common symptoms appear after three to 12 days from infection and include:

  • Weakness/fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, sweating
  • Mild fever (101 °F/38.5 °C)
  • A red rash on the skin that starts from the face and spreads to the rest of the body
  • Small bumps
  • Red eyes
  • Back pain
  • Joint pain
  • Vomiting

These symptoms are quite general and resemble those of other mosquito-transmitted diseases such as dengue fever but, most commonly,  Zika virus symptoms are milder.

A blood or urine test can confirm the presence of the virus.

Zika Fever Causes

One of the primary causes of Zika Fever is a bite from the mosquito genus Aedes. People in African countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and others in that region are particularly susceptible to this disease. In fact, it is due to the Zika forest where it was discovered that it has received its name.

However, since the initial reports of this, there have now been reports practically worldwide including in the continental United States. Sexual transmission is the other primary cause of the Zika Fever which can ultimately be passed on to the unborn fetus as well where it will cause complications in the resulting birth.

How is Zika Fever Treated?

There currently is no specific treatment to combat the virus and it is still unclear for how long it survives in the blood and in body fluids.

Treatment is aimed at controlling the symptoms, and generally involves acetaminophen or paracetamol to reduce fever and pain.  Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in general can lead to bleeding if used to treat dengue fever. Therefore, due to the similarities between the two infections, it must not be used until it is certain that the person is in  fact infected with Zika virus.

Pregnant women who think they might have gotten in contact with the virus should immediately see a doctor. The same holds true for people who have other underlying conditions such as diabetes, cancer or any form of immunodeficiency or when the symptoms become particularly severe.

General recommendations, as for any kind of fever, include resting, and drinking lots of fluids.

Zika Fever Prevention

The prevention of this virus is possible through the use of light-colored clothing which covers as much of the body as possible so as to prevent insect bites. Physical barriers such as screens as well as general common measures against insects (such as keeping windows and doors in a closed position) can also play a significant role by not allowing the carriers of this fever to be able to reach anyone to pass it on to.

It can also help to use insect repellent which will utilize the unique features of DEET to do the best job at preventing such problems. People should be sure to rid their living areas of breeding sites so that the mosquito population will be controlled.

Sexual transmission of the Zika virus can be prevented through the use of condoms or by abstaining from intercourse altogether.

It is very important that this act is avoided if it is known that either partner has been exposed to the virus or even if they are simply exhibiting symptoms which could be related to the disease. This is especially true when either partner is returning from an area which has a higher occurrence of the disease.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
September 08, 2017