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Zika Virus

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About Zika Virus (ZIKV)

The Zika virus (ZIKV) is a mosquito-borne disease, which is transmitted by some species of Aedes mosquito, particularly Aedes aegypti. These mosquitoes bite in the day, particularly around dawn and dusk.

Most people who get infected with Zika virus do not show any symptoms. Only one in five people who get it will feel sick, usually for a few days. In some cases, Zika infection can cause fever, rash, severe headache, joint pain, and muscle or bone pain. Illness from Zika is usually not severe and does not require hospitalisation.

There are also concerns that in rare instances Zika infection can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a serious immune system disorder.

There is new evidence that links Zika infection in pregnant women to causing birth defects, including microcephaly in babies. In addition, latest evidence suggests that in rare circumstances, the virus can be spread through sexual transmission.

There is no specific treatment for Zika virus, just rest and time. It is also important to note that in most developing countries the specific test for Zika is still not easily available.

List of Countries with transmission of Zika

Zika has been known to be in many countries of Africa and Asia for many years. The rate of transmission in these places is very low, with very occasional cases recognised.

In 2007, a large outbreak occurred in the Pacific island of Yap, which settled quickly. In 2014 and 2015 the virus appeared in other Pacific Islands where it had never been before, causing outbreaks. Since late 2015, the virus has spread to South and Central America causing large outbreaks in places it has never been before.

A list of affected countries, with ratings of ‘widespread’, ‘sporadic/limited’ or 'historical' transmission, can be found on the Australian Department of Health website. The list is updated regularly.

Travel advice

Travellers should read the country advice for their destination and monitor the media closely before and during travel.

We continue to advise all travellers to protect themselves from mosquito bites. Given the possibility that Zika virus can cause severe malformations in unborn babies, and taking a very cautious approach, pregnant women should discuss any travel plans with their travel doctor and consider postponing travel to some Zika affected countries - in line with the risk matrix on the Australian Department of Health website.

Women who are pregnant and have recently travelled to areas where there is ongoing Zika virus transmission and suffered an illness that you think might be Zika should see a doctor.

For further details on health advice, including on precautions for sexual transmission, please refer to the Department of Health Zika webpage.

Preventative measures

All travellers are advised to take the following mosquito bite prevention measures when travelling to areas currently affected by Zika virus or wherever mosquito borne diseases are present. These precautions are necessary in the daytime as well as night time.

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Use insect repellents containing DEET or picaridin. Always use as directed. Insect repellents containing DEET and picaridin are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women and children older than 2 months when used according to the product label
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents)
  • Use insecticide-treated bed nets as necessary
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.

Returning to Australia

There have been a number of reported cases of Zika virus in Australia as a result of travellers being infected overseas and returning to Australia. There are no reported cases of microcephaly or other neurological disorders relating to Zika in Australia.

It is important to prevent the spread of such diseases into Australia.

The Australian Government continues to monitor international ports of entry to prevent the types of mosquitoes that can transmit Zika from entering.

Australians can help prevent bringing Zika virus into Australia by strictly following the recommended mosquito bite avoidance measures while overseas.

You should see a doctor as soon as possible if you feel unwell while you are away or on your return, and mention your recent travel.

Additional resources

World Health Organization:

Department of Health:

Pan-American Health Organisation

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention