Zika virus: Symptoms and treatment

The Public Health Agency of Canada has updated the recommendation for travellers visiting countries or areas with risk of Zika virus and the classification of countries according to risk or potential risk of Zika virus.

  • PHAC no longer recommends that pregnant women or women who are trying to conceive avoid travelling to countries or areas with risk of Zika virus. Instead, they are advised to discuss potential travel with a health care professional, and may choose to avoid or postpone travel to these areas. PHAC continues to recommend that pregnant women avoid travelling to areas with a current Zika virus outbreak.
  • The country classification scheme has been updated and aligns with the World Health Organization classification scheme. This scheme categorizes countries according to the presence or absence of current or historical reported Zika virus transmission.

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Symptoms of Zika virus

Only 1 in 4 people infected with Zika virus develop symptoms. Symptoms often include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • skin rash
  • joint and muscle pain

It usually takes between 3 to 14 days for symptoms to appear after infection. The symptoms are usually mild and last for 2 to 7 days.

Possible complications

Although most people recover with no complications, Zika virus infection in a pregnant woman can pose significant risks to the unborn baby, even if the woman does not develop any symptoms. Zika virus can cause serious birth defects including microcephaly (an abnormally small head), brain abnormalities, vision and hearing loss, and more. When some of these birth defects are present together, the condition is called congenital Zika syndrome (CZS).

There have also been increased reports of a serious nervous system disorder in adults, called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) following infection with Zika virus. Symptoms of GBS include:

  • weakness of the arms and legs
  • weakness or paralysis of the muscles that control breathing

Symptoms of GBS can last a few weeks to several months. Most people fully recover but some people have permanent nervous system damage; very few people die from GBS.

There have also been rare case reports of other nervous system conditions affecting the nerves, spinal cord and brain in children and adults.

A small number of deaths associated with Zika virus infection have been reported. These have been seen in:

  • infants with severe birth defects
  • children and adults with underlying health conditions that weaken their immune system (reduce their ability to fight disease)

If you become ill

Symptoms are often mild and most people recover fully with no complications.

See a health care professional if you had or currently have symptoms of Zika virus infection.

To help assess your risk, tell your health care professional where you've been travelling or living, or if you have had unprotected sexual contact with someone who could be infected with Zika virus.

Testing for Zika virus

Zika virus is diagnosed through a laboratory test. Your health care professional will determine whether you should be tested based on your:

  • symptoms
  • pregnancy status
  • places and dates of travel
  • unprotect sexual contact with a Zika virus-infected person

Treating Zika virus

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent or medication to treat infection with Zika virus. Symptoms, when present, will typically resolve on their own within a few days. Treatment aims to relieve symptoms. You can relieve Zika virus symptoms by drinking fluids, getting rest, and taking acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) for fever and pain.

Avoid taking a pain reliever that contains acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), until other infections such as dengue have been ruled out by your doctor. ASA is a commonly used pain reliever found in medications such as aspirin. Another commonly used NSAID is ibuprofen, found in Motrin and Advil.

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