What is the Zika virus and how does it present?

The Zika virus is spread by the Aedes mosquitoes, and it’sits infection presents with non-specific symptoms such as: 

  • Fever
  • Itchy skin 
  • Skin rash 
  • Red eyes 
  • Muscle and joint pain 
  • Headache 

The symptoms typically last from 2-10 days, but most people affected with Zika with have no symptoms at all. It is thought that once you have Zika, you are immune to future infections.

How does the Zika virus spread?

The zika virus can spread a few different ways 

Through mosquito bites: the most common way to get infected  

  • Through sex 
  • From mom to baby during pregnancy
  • Potentially through blood transfusion  

Who gets tested for Zika and how is testing done?  

You should get tested for Zika if you are pregnant and … 

  • You live or have travelled to an area with Zika and have symptoms
  • If you have sex with a partner who recently traveled to an area with Zika and you have symptoms 
  • There are Zika related changes to your baby (see effects on baby below) seen on ultrasound or after delivery 

You should get tested for Zika if you are the partner of a pregnant woman or a woman trying to get pregnant and … 

  • You may have been exposed to Zika (recent travel to an area with Zika, have had sex with someone who has recently traveled to an area with Zika) or have Zika symptoms 
  • It is important to note that this does not indicate how likely a person is to pass the Zika virus through sex as the virus can live in semen for up to 6 months 

You may have testing for Zika if you are pregnant and … 

  • You have no symptoms, were potentially exposed to Zika but do not have ongoing exposures: discuss with your health care provider if testing is right for you 

You should not get tested for Zika if...

  • You are using it as a screening test before getting pregnant  

What does testing include?

  1. Urine Testing: for the Zika virus 
  2. Blood testing: for the Zika virus and the antibody to the virus 
  3. If the test for the virus is negative but the test for the antibody is not, you may have a follow up blood test known as a plaque reduction neutralization test (PRNT) 

How to prevent Zika infections 

  1. Avoid travel to areas with increased Zika burden (http://www.who.int/emergencies/zika-virus/classification-tables/en/)
  2. If having sex with someone potentially infected with Zika/has recently travelled to an area with high Zika burden use a condom (female or male) 
  3. Use insect repellent, those recommended include: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, 2-undecanone 
  4. Wear appropriate clothing including long sleeved shirts and pants, clothes treated with permethrin and light coloured clothing  
  5. Take precautions at home including: keeping windows and doors closed, using screens and nets, covering containers that hold water like buckets and flower pots as mosquitos can breed there 

How to treat Zika infections 

There is currently no treatment or vaccination for Zika infections, preventative measures (see above) are key.

Zika and pregnancy 

Getting pregnant: 

  1. Men who have traveled to an area with active Zika should wait at least 6 months after travel/after symptoms started before trying to conceive 
  2. Women who have traveled to an area with active Zika should wait at least 8 weeks after travel/after symptoms before trying to conceive 

Effect on baby: 

  1. Brain changes: microcephaly (small head size), decreased brain tissue, seizures
  2. Eye changes: scarring to the back of the eye, visual difficulties 
  3. Body changes: increased muscle tone, joints with decreased range of motion 
  4. Functional changes: difficulty sitting independently, feeding and sleeping 
  5. Pregnancy concerns: miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm and intrauterine grow restriction

Zika Postpartum 

Breastfeeding is encouraged regardless of Zika infection in the mother, as no health concerns have been reported and breastfeeding has many benefits to baby 

Baby Care 

  • During the first month of life: The baby may be tested for the Zika infection, have an ultrasound of the head to assess brain development, eye exam and hearing test 
  • After the first month of life: regular well baby assessments, referrals to specialists as needed 

References and additional sources: 

  1. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/zika-virus/travelling-zika-virus.html#a1
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html
  3. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/zika-virus.html
  4. https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/BrowseByTopic/InfectiousDiseases/Pages/IDLandingPages/Zika-Virus-Infection.aspx 
  5. https://www.quebec.ca/en/health/health-issues/a-z/zikavirus/
  6. https://ecdc.europa.eu/en/zika-virus-infection