By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 02/09/2016

The Zika virus is a flavivirus transmitted by the mosquito known as Aedes aegypti, which is a vector for other infectious diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever, and chikungunya as well.

Infection by this virus is not considered to be severe and its symptoms are generally mild to moderate. However, if the contagion takes place in a woman who is pregnant, consequences for the fetus may be irreversible.

The first cases of infection by the Zika virus date from the 50s in tropical Africa, but since 2007 new cases have been detected across the Pacific area as well as Southeast Asia, and in 2015 it reached and spread throughout Brazil.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently announced an international alert due to the spread of the virus, establishing therefore a state of Public Health Emergency of International Concern in recent months.

Symptoms of Zika virus disease

The transmission of this virus does not necessarily translate into the development of the Zika disease. In fact, nearly 75% of people infected are not aware that they have been infected due to the absence of symptoms or the very little severity they imply.

Among the most common symptoms, we would like to highlight the following ones:

  • Low-grade fever (lower than 38.5°C)
  • Joint pain and muscle soreness
  • Mild joint inflammation
  • Maculopapular rash (flat, red area on the skin)
  • Redness in the eyes that may cause conjunctivitis without pus
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Tiredness

Usually, the above mentioned symptoms can be categorized as mild. This is the reason why people often do not pay too much attention to them or they can be easily confused with those of another pathology or abnormality.

The most advisable treatment to relief this symptomatology is the same prescribed for a cold or flu: drinking plenty of fluids, bed rest, and paracetamol.

Infants born with microcephaly

As can be seen, the symptoms of the Zika virus disease are mild and disappear on their own after an incubation period that typically lasts between 3 to 10 days. However, what actually poses a threat to the world’s population and is the reason why the WHO has declared the international state of alert is the contagion to pregnant women.

Even though the link between them has not been proven yet, the WHO suspects this increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly might be due to the Zika virus disease.

Data provided by the WHO indicate that a total number of 24 countries are already infected by this epidemic, being Brazil at a top position. Within this country, one and a half million cases have been diagnosed and over 4,000 births of babies with microcephaly have been registered.

Microcephaly is linked to mental retardation, and hearing and vision loss among newborns.

To date, Brazil is the only country where this infectious disease may be linked to fetal malformations, but it is also possible that such malformations have not been detected yet. This is because, given that they are intrauterine malformations, they cannot be detected properly until childbirth.

How to prevent yourself from contagion

Even though, as stated earlier, there is not scientific proof of the direct link between microcephaly and the Zika virus disease yet, in some areas of the American continent where the risk of mosquito bite is higher, women are advised to avoid pregnancy as a preventive measure.

Likewise, women who are already pregnant are advised not to travel as long as possible to countries or areas where there is a higher risk of infection by the Zika virus.

Precautions should be taken as well in order to avoid mosquito bites. Such measures may be: using mosquito repellents, wearing clothes that cover both arms and legs, sleeping in rooms where there are mosquito nets or with the windows shut, etc.

Nowadays, there is still no cure or vaccination against this virus, which means that the only available measure that can be taken by now is trying to reduce its symptoms and increase the number of preventive measures.

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Authors and contributors

 Andrea Rodrigo
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia along with the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Postgraduate course in Medical Genetics. More information
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4 comments

    1. KAtherine

      I live in England and just saw the news on the TV… We had a reservation for Playa del Carmen next week. I’m 2 months pregnant but we’ve decided to cancel the journey. We’d better not tempt fate…

    2. Sonya Müller

      Really, girls? I was there last week and rarely saw a mosquito…

    3. Emiliana

      Hello, anyone is currently at Playa del Carmen, Mexico and has seen lots of mosquitoes flying all around? I’m scared because I’m on my honeymoon and married pregnant so I’m scared my baby is in danger… What can I do? OMG!!!!

      • 4 MONTHS PREGNANT

        I’m in the same situation, Emilia!!!! Are you doing something special to prevent yourself? I’m trying to stay in the hotel as much as possible and only see the sunlight for what’s strictly necessary… 🙁