Anju Goel, MD, MPH, is a board-certified physician who specializes in public health, communicable disease, diabetes, and health policy.
The Zika virus is a transmittable disease that is spread through mosquito bites and can be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy. While most infections will cause few, if any, symptoms, the disease can cause a rare, irreversible birth defect known as microcephaly, in which a baby is born with an abnormally small head and brain.
In adults and children, Zika will usually cause a mild, self-limiting illness or have no symptoms at all. Because there is neither a vaccine nor treatment for the Zika virus, the primary way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites if traveling to or living in an area where the Zika risk is high.
Zika virus is not contagious from person-to-person in the way that, say, a cold virus is. It is possible to get the virus by having sex with someone who is infected. Otherwise, most cases of Zika are caused by mosquito bites and transmitted from a mother to her baby during pregnancy.
As of 2020, there is not an approved vaccine against the Zika virus. However, vaccine trials have been in the works since 2017.
The primary carrier of Zika virus is the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Zika may also be transmitted via sex and blood transfusions. The virus can be transmitted from an infected pregnant woman to the fetus.
The best way to prevent infection with Zika is to avoid getting bit by the Aedes aegypti mosquito by using insect repellant, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding high-risk areas (check the CDC’s Zika Travel Information for updates on which regions of the world are the riskiest).
An over-the-counter analgesic used to treat minor to moderate pain and lower fever. Acetaminophen is commonly used to treat symptoms of mild cases of Zika virus, including fever, joint pain, muscle aches, and headaches. Tylenol is a brand-name acetaminophen product.
A type of skin eruption, or rash that is widespread over the body, symmetric, and red with macules or papules, but without scales. Exanthem is one of the common symptoms of infection with Zika virus.
A birth defect in which a baby’s brain and head are abnormally small, sometimes caused when a pregnant woman is infected with Zika virus and passes the infection to the fetus. Microcephaly is irreversible and can cause numerous intellectual and physical defects in a child who is born with it.
The study of viruses—how they replicate, how they spread, and their microbiological characteristics. Understanding the molecular and genetic makeup of a particular virus, such as the Zika virus, can help scientists create a vaccine to prevent it.
Centers for Disease Control. Zika Travel Information.
Centers for Disease Control. Birth Defects. Facts About Microcephaly.