Risks of Zika

Learn about the risks of Zika and who is most at risk.

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The risk of getting Zika

The risk of getting Zika is very low for Canadians who both:

  • do not travel
  • live in Canada

There's an ongoing risk for Canadians who:

  • are travelling to a Zika-affected country or area
  • have had unprotected sexual contact with someone who was diagnosed with Zika virus infection or travelled to a Zika-affected country or area.

Who is most at risk

A developing fetus (unborn baby) of a mother infected during pregnancy is at greatest risk. Exposure to the Zika virus during fetal development increases the risk of severe health outcomes.

Special care to protect a developing fetus from exposure to the Zika virus must be taken by:

  • pregnant women
  • those planning a pregnancy
  • sexual partners of those who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy

The risks of complications

Women can pass the virus to their unborn babies. In babies whose mothers were infected during pregnancy, the Zika virus can cause severe birth defects, such as:

  • hearing loss
  • club foot and contracted limbs
  • other neurologic abnormalities including:
    • seizures
    • irritability
    • spasticity
  • abnormal development of the eyes, including visual problems
  • incomplete brain development, including abnormally small heads (microcephaly)

There have been increased reports of a rare nervous system condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) in people with recent Zika virus infection. It is not known for sure if GBS is a complication of Zika. GBS does occur very rarely after other infections, so infection with Zika virus could be a risk factor. 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.

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