Zika is an illness you get from a virus. It’s spread by Aedes mosquitoes that live in many parts of the world. It can also spread through sex. If a pregnant person is infected, they can pass the virus to the fetus. This can cause serious congenital (present at birth) conditions, including improper brain development and vision problems.
Zika virus (or Zika fever) is an illness you get from certain types of mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus). It’s caused by a virus, an organism that uses your cells to make more copies of itself. Most people don’t know they have it or have very mild symptoms. If a person who’s pregnant gets infected, the virus can prevent the fetus’s brain from developing properly.
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The mosquitoes that carry Zika are found in many parts of the world. There have been outbreaks of Zika in the Americas, the Caribbean and parts of Africa and Asia.
There was a Zika epidemic from 2014 to 2017 in the Americas, with outbreaks in the U.S. in 2015 and 2016. Cases of Zika in the U.S. since then have been in people who got infected while traveling outside of the U.S.
Zika is very serious for people who are pregnant because it can interfere with the fetus’s development. Zika is usually mild for most other adults and children.
Only about 1 in 5 people with Zika have symptoms, which include:
Zika virus can spread in many ways, including:
Some studies show that you can spread Zika through sex for up to six weeks after your symptoms start. Since you can have Zika without symptoms, the CDC recommends using condoms during sex or not having sex for three months after traveling to an area where Zika is common.
A healthcare provider diagnoses Zika by looking for signs of the virus in your blood or pee (urine). Your provider will usually only test for Zika if you’ve been to a place with risk for Zika and you have symptoms. They’ll ask you about your symptoms and recent travel to determine whether they’ll test for Zika.
There’s no specific medication that treats or cures Zika. Your provider can help you manage your symptoms and tell you how to keep from spreading the virus to others. If you’re pregnant and test positive for Zika, your pregnancy care provider will help you manage your symptoms safely.
You can manage most symptoms of Zika at home with over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol®). Don’t take aspirin or NSAIDS (like Advil®, Motrin® or Aleve®) unless your provider says it’s okay. Other illnesses with symptoms similar to Zika have a risk of bleeding with these medications. If you have one of these diseases instead of Zika, taking aspirin or NSAIDS can put you at risk for severe bleeding.
Zika virus infections usually go away on their own. But if a person is pregnant and has Zika, it can cause congenital (present at birth) conditions in their baby, such as vision loss or improper brain development. These conditions are permanent.
Ways to reduce your risk of getting or spreading a Zika infection include:
Most people with Zika have mild symptoms that can be treated at home. Symptoms usually last a few days to a week. Precautions you should take to avoid spreading Zika to others include:
A small number of people with Zika (about 2 in 10,000) develop Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune disorder that can cause weakness and paralysis. Most people recover from GBS in a few weeks to a few months.
If you’re pregnant and test positive for Zika, your pregnancy care provider will monitor your health and the health of the fetus closely. When your child is born, a provider will test them for Zika-related issues.
Remember that your provider can’t predict or prevent pregnancy complications and the congenital conditions that Zika can cause. But they can help prepare you for challenges you and your child might face when they’re born.
If you’re pregnant and infected with Zika, the virus can also infect the fetus and interfere with its development. About 5% (1 in 20) of babies born to someone infected with Zika have congenital conditions, including:
There’s no cure for Zika or the complications it can cause. Most people have mild symptoms and recover on their own.
See a healthcare provider if you’ve traveled to an area with a risk of Zika or live where there’s currently an outbreak and have Zika symptoms.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Zika virus usually isn’t serious for adults and children. But if a person who’s pregnant gets infected, it can keep the fetus’s brain from developing properly and cause other health issues at birth. If you’re pregnant and have been diagnosed with Zika, your pregnancy care provider can guide you through what to expect in your specific situation. Although Zika can cause congenital conditions, remember that most babies born to someone with Zika don’t have Zika-related conditions.
You can take precautions to avoid Zika when traveling and during sex. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant and have concerns about Zika where you live or during travel.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/20/2022.
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