Behind the news headlines: Zika virus

What is the Zika virus?

Zika virus is an illness which causes severe birth defects and is spread to people through mosquito bites. It does not spread from person to person. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease (which may need hospital treatment) is uncommon. A blood test can confirm the diagnosis.

What are the symptoms?

Zika virus does not usually cause symptoms but symptoms may be fever, rash, joint pain, muscle pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes) which occur three to 12 days after a mosquito bite. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week.

Where is the Zika virus commonly found?

Zika virus can be found in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, South and South East Asia and the Pacific region.

Why is the Zika virus in the news now?

A recent outbreak of the virus in Brazil has led to reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome and pregnant women having babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes. Brazilian authorities have said the number of babies born with suspected microcephaly - or abnormally small heads - had reached nearly 4,000 since October.

What to do if you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy and travelling or living in these locations?

Travellers who are pregnant (in any trimester) or planning to become pregnant and who live in, or will travel to areas where any mosquito-borne diseases are known to occur, should consider avoiding travel to that area. If travel is unavoidable, or they live in areas where an active outbreak is being reported, they should take scrupulous measures to avoid mosquito bites during both daytime and night-time hours.



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