What is the Zika virus?
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne infection, which isn't harmful in most cases. However, it may be harmful for pregnancies, and has been linked to birth defects – specifically, abnormally small heads.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the infection is likely to spread through the warmer regions of North America in the future.
What symptoms does the virus cause?
Many people don't have any symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and last around two to seven days. Commonly reported symptoms include:
- a low-grade fever
- joint pain (with possible swelling, mainly in the smaller joints of the hands and feet)
- conjunctivitis (red eyes)
- muscle pain
- eye pain
How is the Zika virus diagnosed and treated?
The Zika virus can be diagnosed with a blood test.
There is no direct treatment for the symptoms of the Zika virus. Drinking plenty of water and taking paracetamol may help relieve symptoms. The use of aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen is not recommended, as there is a potential risk they could trigger excessive bleeding.
If you still have symptoms after a week, you should seek medical advice.
What risks does the Zika virus pose in pregnancy?
There is evidence that pregnant women who contract the virus during pregnancy (at any trimester) have an increased risk of giving birth to a baby with an abnormally small head.
How does the Zika virus spread?
It is thought that most cases of the Zika virus are spread by infected mosquitoes biting humans. Unlike the mosquitoes that spread malaria, affected mosquitoes (the Aedes mosquito) are most active during the day.
The virus may also be spread during sexual intercourse.
How do I reduce my risk of contracting the Zika virus?
The most effective methods are to reduce your risk of being bitten by an Aedes mosquito. These include:
- using insect repellent that contains N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) on exposed skin – the repellent is safe to use during pregnancy and should be applied to skin before sunscreen is applied
- wearing loose clothing that covers your arms and legs
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