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Zika virus information

Mosquito feeding (Zika virus article)

Zika virus infection is spread by Aedes mosquitoes Wikimedia Commons

16 February 2016

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus has now spread throughout both South and Central America and they expect 3-4 million people to be infected in 2016. Here is a digest of advice from public health authorities with links to further information about the virus and advice about travelling to affected areas. Before you travel, as part of your travel risk assessment, make sure that you and your line manager have considered the risks associated with the Zika virus and ensure that you have taken the appropriate actions to address them. The information linked under other resources will be updated regularly and these links should be followed for the latest advice when assessing these risks.

Key facts about Zika virus

  • Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes.
  • People with Zika virus disease usually have symptoms that can include mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days.
  • The symptoms of Zika virus are similar to other mosquito-borne infections such as dengue, chikungunya and malaria so laboratory testing is essential for the correct diagnosis.
  • There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available.
  • The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites.
  • The virus is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
  • In October 2015, the Brazilian Ministry of Health reported an unusual increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly (a smaller head than expected which can be due to abnormal brain development) and has suggested a possible link between the increase in microcephaly and the ongoing Zika virus outbreak.
  • Since the start of the outbreak in 2015, several UK travellers have been diagnosed with Zika virus

Other resources

Travel advice

Public Health England (PHE) have been carefully monitoring the situation and as a precaution, travel advice for pregnant women has been updated. Whilst it remains important for travellers to take the necessary precautions, PHE is stressing that any public health risk to the wider population in England is negligible, as the mosquito that transmits the virus is not found in the UK.

In general, before and after travelling:

  • Seek travel health advice from your GP/practice nurse or a travel clinic ideally six to eight weeks before you go.
  • Reduce your risk of infection with Zika virus by taking steps to avoid being bitten by an Aedes mosquito.
  • Pregnant women are urged to consider avoiding travel to areas reporting active Zika transmission and women who are planning to become pregnant should discuss their travel plans with their healthcare provider to assess the risk of infection with Zika virus and receive advice on mosquito bite avoidance measures.
  • If you have recently returned from an area where active Zika transmission is currently reported and have a fever or flu-like illness, then the advice is to seek medical attention without delay to exclude malaria and mention your travel history. If you are pregnant, seek advice from your GP or midwife as you may require further monitoring.

The most effective bite prevention methods, which should be used during daytime and nighttime hours, include:

  • using insect repellent that contains N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) on exposed skin – the repellent is safe to use during pregnancy (information from NHS Choices) and should be applied to skin after sunscreen is applied
  • wearing loose clothing that covers your arms and legs
  • sleeping under a mosquito net in areas where malaria is also a risk

Other resources

Further information

The information in this item has been reproduced from the resources stated and under the terms of the WHO publication policy and UK Open Government Licence. Please contact the University Occupational Health Service for health information or advice, especially if traveling to affected areas for work or study. News item content has been developed by the University Biological Safety Advisor.