Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

UPDATE:

There have been new reports of Zika virus in South Florida, so far limited to areas within Miami. Here is the Zika map showing affected areas.

A travel health warning is now posted on travel.gc.ca about the Zika presence in a ‘limited area in South Florida’.

More details about Zika and the Miami cases are here.

Planning to get pregnant, travel, or both?
Stay informed about the Zika virus and find out how you can protect yourself and your loved ones from the illness.

by Mary Wimmer

The mosquito-borne Zika virus is now drawing global attention due to its possible connection with a rare neurological birth defect called microcephaly. Here’s what you need to know about Zika, in order to make the most informed travel decisions:

What is the Zika virus?

First discovered in 1947 in a monkey found in Uganda's Zika Forest, the virus has been reported in people in Asia and Africa since the 1950s. The virus is currently circulating in 28 nations, with a likelihood of spreading to more. Although Canada is not on the list of affected regions, popular holiday destinations in North America and the Caribbean are. Infection at epidemic levels is apparent in some Latin American countries.

How can I get it?

Zika virus is transmitted primarily by bites from the Aedes aegypti breed of mosquitos (that also spreads dengue fever and chikungunya), a particularly aggressive type known for biting during the daytime as well as night. There have also been isolated cases of the virus being transmitted through blood transfusions and sexual contact. 

What are the symptoms?

It is generally considered a very mild illness, with only one in five of those infected becoming ill enough to display symptoms. These can be characterized as typical viral symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. These symptoms last for only a few days.

Why are we concerned about it?

Experts are concerned about a suspected, although as yet scientifically inconclusive, link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly – a neurological birth defect that results in infants being born with abnormally small heads. The World Health Organization is also concerned with the fast rate at which the virus seems to be spreading lately.

How can I protect myself from it?

If you choose to visit a destination where Zika virus is circulating, it is important to use mosquito repellant. Preventing mosquito bites will protect people from Zika virus, as well as other diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes such as dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Wear light-coloured clothes that cover as much of the body as possible, and always use physical barriers where offered: screens, windows, doors, and mosquito netting. It is also important to empty, clean or cover containers that can hold even small amounts of water such as buckets, flower pots or tires, so that places where mosquitoes can breed are removed.

Can I still travel to affected regions?

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy avoid travel to countries with reported mosquito-borne Zika virus. If people do decide to travel to infected areas, they should take extra special precautions and stay informed about Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. If you are planning travel to these area please consult your local health or travel authorities.

What if I am pregnant, or planning to be?

Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should follow the advice above, and may also consult their local health authorities if travelling to an area with an ongoing Zika virus outbreak.

More information can be found at the website of the Public Health Agency of Canada or Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. For the latest update of countries affected by the Zika virus, visit the World Health Organization’s website.