Zika Virus Symptoms, Testing, and Treatment

Zika is a disease caused by the Zika virus, which spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito.

The virus infects mosquitoes when the bug bites someone infected with Zika. The infected mosquitoes then spread the virus to everyone they subsequently bite. The virus can also pass from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or near the time of birth. Anyone who lives or travels to an area with Aedes mosquitoes is at risk for infection with the Zika virus, including pregnant women.

Incubation Period, Symptoms and Treatment of the Zika Virus

Scientists have not yet established the incubation period, which is the time of exposure to the onset of symptoms, but symptoms often start a few days to a week after the mosquito bite or initial exposure.

About one in five people infected with the virus develop Zika and experience symptoms. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, also known as “pink eye.” Other symptoms include a headache and muscle pain. Symptoms are usually mild and last for a few days to one week. Severe symptoms requiring hospitalization are uncommon, and deaths are rare.

Treatment for healthy people with the Zika virus includes rest, fluids, acetaminophen to relieve pain. Healthy people infected with the virus should not take aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen or ibuprofen until a doctor can rule out dengue to reduce the risk of uncontrolled bleeding.

Babies born to women exposed to the Zika virus during pregnancy may develop microcephaly, a serious birth defect that can cause small heads and damaged brains, and other poor outcomes.

The Zika virus typically remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days, but it lingers in some people. Because it can linger, an infected person can transmit the virus to other mosquitoes – and other people – for several days.

Prevention and Diagnosis of the Zika Virus

While scientists are working quickly to learn more about Zika and potentially poor health outcomes, pregnant women should consider postponing travel to any area with ongoing Zika transmissions. Anyone who must travel to these areas, or who has traveled to these areas recently, should speak to a doctor and follow steps to prevent mosquito bites. Women who are trying to become pregnant should speak with a doctor before traveling to any areas where Zika is active. There is no vaccine for Zika, so the best way to prevent the disease is to avoid the bite of the Aedes mosquito.

The Zika virus requires a medical blood test for diagnosis. Laboratory testing includes PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and virus isolation from blood samples. Diagnosis can be difficult in that Zika can resemble other diseases, such as dengue, West Nile, and yellow fever, in the laboratory.

Protect yourself from bug bites by trying to wear light colors, long pants, and long sleeves or a jacket when you are out and about when insects are not in hibernation. If you suspect you are suffering symptoms of a bite, find the nearest Complete Care location and schedule a test.