Zika virus: Symptoms and treatment

The Public Health Agency of Canada has updated the recommendation for prevention of sexual transmission of Zika. The previous recommendation was for returning male travellers to wait 6 months before trying for a pregnancy and to always use condoms correctly with their sexual partner for 6 months. This recommendation has been revised to 3 months based on new scientific evidence regarding the persistence of infectious Zika virus in semen. It is still advised that male travellers with a pregnant partner should continue to refrain from unprotected sex for the duration of the pregnancy.

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Symptoms of Zika virus

Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. Only 1 in 4 people infected with Zika virus are believed to develop symptoms. If present, symptoms often include:

  • red eyes
  • general symptoms, such as:
    • weakness
    • headaches
    • lack of energy
  • short-term muscle or joint pain
    • possible joint swelling, mainly in the smaller joints of the hands and feet
  • low-grade fever (37.8 to 38.5 °C)
  • a flat, red rash on the skin covered with small bumps

Symptoms of Zika virus can be similar to other travel-related viral diseases, such as dengue and chikungunya. However, Zika virus symptoms are typically milder.

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 can pass from mother to baby through the placenta and cause severe birth defects in babies who are infected before they are born. In adults, there have also been rare reports of severe neurologic symptoms following Zika virus infection, such as a nervous system condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).

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 develop symptoms consistent with Zika virus and are concerned about your health or the health of your baby.

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

Treating Zika virus

Currently, there's no cure for Zika virus. Treatment aims to relieve symptoms.

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. 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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