Zika Virus

Questions You May Have

What is Zika virus?

Zika virus infection, also called Zika virus disease, is caused by a virus which is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Skin rash
  • Muscle and joint pain

The symptoms are generally mild and last between 2 to 7 days. Most people infected with Zika virus have no symptoms at all. At this time, there is no specific treatment or vaccine.

Are there any risks of complications from Zika virus?

Yes. Some countries have reported a significant increase in the number of newborns with microcephaly (abnormally small head), and a number of countries have reported an increase in the number of cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a neurological disorder. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, experts agree that Zika virus infection causes microcephaly and GBS.

Where is Zika virus found?

Zika virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, which are found in South America, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The virus was originally found only in Africa and Asia and was first reported in the Western Hemisphere in 2015.

In August 2016, the state of Florida (USA) reported cases of Zika virus that were transmitted by local mosquitoes in the Miami area. For more information visit the Government of Canada’s travel health notice Zika virus infection: Global Update.

There have been no reported cases of locally acquired Zika virus in Canada. The type of mosquito that is known to spread the virus to humans is not found in Canada. The only cases of Zika virus reported in Canada have been travel related. For more detailed information about which countries are affected, visit World Health Organization – Zika virus infection.

Who is at risk of getting Zika virus?

The following people could be at risk of getting Zika virus:

  • People who travel to regions where Zika is circulating. More than 45 countries in South America, Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, Asia, and Africa have reported Zika cases.
  • Possibly the sexual partners of men who have recently visited areas where Zika virus is present.
  • A developing baby exposed to the Zika virus when the mother is bitten by an infected mosquito, or possibly when the mother is exposed to the virus through sexual contact with an infected partner.

Should pregnant women be concerned about Zika virus?

Yes. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, experts agree that Zika virus causes microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition where a baby is born with a small head or the head stops growing after birth. Pregnant women, or those who plan on becoming pregnant, should avoid travel to countries or areas with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks. For more information about travelling while pregnant, speak with your health care provider or see HealthLinkBC File #41g The Pregnant Traveller.

How can I protect myself and my family?

Anyone travelling to areas affected by Zika virus is advised to consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably 6 weeks before planned travel. If you are pregnant you should consider postponing your travel plans and discuss your risk with your health care provider.

If you do travel to an area affected by the Zika virus:

  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times. You should take precautions throughout the day and night, when you are both indoors and outdoors. For advice on how to protect you and your family from mosquito bites, see HealthLinkBC File #96 Insect Repellents and DEET.
  • Women planning to get pregnant should consider waiting at least 2 months after returning from a Zika infected area before trying to conceive. This recommendation is based on the incubation period of the virus, the duration of the illness, and the time required to clear the virus. Speak with your health care provider for more information.
  • Zika virus can last for a prolonged period of time in the semen of infected men.
    • Infected men and their partners should wait at least 6 months before trying to conceive. It is recommended that you use a condom during the 6 months.
    • As a precaution, men should use condoms with any partner that could become pregnant for 6 months after returning from a Zika infected area.
    • If your partner is pregnant, it is recommended you consider using condoms for the duration of the pregnancy until more is known.
  • Avoid donating blood for 3 weeks after returning from travel to a Zika infected area. Although the risk is low, Canadian Blood Services has implemented a 21-day waiting period to prevent possible transmission.

Are there tests for the Zika Virus?

There are testing methods for detection of Zika virus. It is recommended that the following people be assessed for testing by a health care provider:

  • Travellers who have been to a Zika infected area and return with symptoms.
  • Travellers who have been to a Zika infected area and become ill up to 15 days after returning.
  • Pregnant travellers, with or without symptoms, who were pregnant during or within one month of returning from travel to a Zika infected area.

The Provincial Health Officer recommends that all pregnant women returning from Zika infected areas be offered Zika virus testing and a detailed ultrasound at 19-20 weeks gestation. For information about Zika testing and scheduling ultrasounds, speak with your health care provider.

For more information about testing for Zika, visit Healthy Canadians – Laboratory Testing Recommendations for Zika Virus.

Your Health Authority

For Zika virus related information from your health authority, where available, click on the link below.

For Health Professionals

For detailed health information about Zika, including the management of returning pregnant travellers and laboratory guidance for Zika virus testing, click on the link below.

Useful Websites

BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC)

The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. They provide provincial and national leadership in public health through surveillance, detection, prevention and consultation. They also provide direct diagnostic and treatment services to people with diseases that may affect the health of the public. To learn more about Zika virus and the risk in B.C., click on the link below.

Healthy Canadians

Healthy Canadians is a Government of Canada website that provides health and safety information for Canadians and health professionals. For information about the testing recommendations for Zika virus, click on the link below.

Pan American Health Organization

The Pan American Health Organization works to strengthen national and local health systems and improve health outcomes for all people in the Americas. For information about Zika virus in the Americas, including a map of confirmed cases, click on the link below.

World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization (WHO) provides leadership on global health matters, including monitoring and assessing health issues such as Zika virus, providing technical support to countries, and setting norms and standards. For more information about Zika virus, including updates on which countries are affected, click on the link below.

Last Reviewed: November 17, 2016

The information provided in the Zika Virus Health Feature has been adapted from the Office of the Provincial Health Officer – Zika Virus for Healthcare Professionals, accessed February 17, 2016, the Public Health Agency of Canada - Zika virus infection in the Americas Travel Health Notice, accessed January 28, 2016, the Public Health Agency of Canada – Public Health Notice – Zika Virus, accessed April 21, 2016, World Health Organization – Zika virus, accessed April 21, 2016, and Healthy Canadians – Risks of Zika virus, accessed April 21, 2016.

Is it an emergency?

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