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How can I protect myself against Zika?

Travellers are being warned about a mosquito-borne disease called Zika that has been linked to birth defects. Should you be concerned about Zika?

What is Zika?

Zika is a viral disease spread by day-biting Aedes mosquitoes.

Why is Zika a problem?

Zika is a mild illness, but infection during pregnancy has been linked to birth defects that affect skull size and brain development among other things.

What are the symptoms of Zika?

Zika symptoms are very mild and include rash, itch, mild fever, headache, red eyes and muscle and joint pains. If you experience any of these symptoms on your return from a country with a Zika risk, get medical attention.

If you are pregnant and you get these symptoms, speak to your midwife or GP.

You will need to get advice about avoiding conception for a period after a Zika infection.

Zika may be sexually transmitted so you should take steps to protect anyone you are close to, particularly if they are pregnant.

Where is Zika a problem?

Zika first appeared in Africa in the 1940s, but in recent years outbreaks have been cropping up around the world, particularly in South America and South East Asia. A country’s Zika risk status may change rapidly, so you need to keep an eye on a reliable, up-to-date resource before you travel, such as Public Health England’s page Zika virus: country specific risk.

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you should avoid travel to countries with a high risk of Zika and consider postponing travel to moderate risk countries.

The specialist nurses at our Global travel Clinics can help you to understand the Zika risks in your itinerary. You may wish to change your travel plans if you are pregnant or planning to conceive.

I’ve been to a country where Zika occurs. What should I do?

When you return from a region with any risk of Zika you need to avoid conception by using condoms for at least eight weeks if you a woman and six months if you are a man. It is thought that Zika can be sexually transmitted.

How do I avoid Zika?

There is no vaccine against Zika.

Mosquito bite avoidance will reduce your chances of contracting Zika in countries with a risk. At your travel health appointment, ask for advice on mosquito-bite avoidance. Strict measures against mosquito bites are recommended for all travellers, particularly women who are pregnant or likely to become so. Other mosquito-borne illnesses, particularly malaria, are dangerous for pregnant women. Avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellents and by wearing long, loose clothing with good limb coverage. Sleeping rooms should be equipped with air conditioning and mosquito nets. Application to the skin of 50% DEET is recommended, and this is safe for pregnant women.

Zika may be sexually transmitted, so you will want to use a condom if your sexual partner has visited a region with a Zika risk, or if they have had Zika.