What should I know about the Zika virus?

There is currently an ongoing outbreak of Zika virus infection in South and Central America and the Caribbean. In most people there are no symptoms from contracting Zika, but those who do develop symptoms generally have a mild illness with symptoms that include a combination of the following: fever, joint pains, rash, conjunctivitis (red eyes), painful eyes, headache and muscle pain. These symptoms may appear up to 14 days after exposure and last 2 to 7 days.

Zika virus infection in pregnant women is associated with a greater risk of having a baby with a small head (microcephaly) and other neurological problems.

There is also an association with developing Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease which affects nerves and their roots. A number of other infections can also provoke this syndrome.

Zika virus is spread by a particular species of mosquito and by sexual transmission. Zika virus has also been found in other body fluids such as saliva, but it is not clear if it is transmitted through exchange of these fluids.

There are a number of sources of up-to-date information and travel advice including arranging appointments for vaccinations and mosquito bite prevention which can be accessed by the following links:

We are learning more every day about Zika virus and at present, the University Medical Officer’s view is that those wishing to travel to the at-risk areas should go ahead with their plans with the exception of pregnant women or those who are planning a pregnancy.

If pregnant or planning a pregnancy, advice should be sought from your GP or Midwife to ensure the information you receive is appropriate for your specific circumstances.

If you suffer from a significant pre-existing health problem, for example, heart or lung disease, you should also consult your GP to discuss your travel. Your GP can also provide relevant certification should your travel plans need to be amended or cancelled.

As there are indications that Zika can be spread by sexual activity, it is very important to follow the guidance on the NHS Choices website listed above for both men and women.

If you have recently travelled to an area where Zika is prevalent, please contact your GP or NHS 111 for advice and arrange any tests you may require.

Dr. V. Raichura
University Medical Officer
8 February 2016