Large outbreaks of this mosquito borne virus have occurred through South and Central America, the Caribbean, and some Pacific Islands (Samoa, Tonga) in recent years. More recently it has spread throughout the tropics including South East Asia.The virus is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, the same mosquito that transmits other viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya. This mosquito is most active during daylight hours and in urban areas. Zika Virus is also passed on through sexual contact.
The main issue with Zika is the link between infection in pregnancy and brain development in newborns. Brazil and other countries have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of affected babies, coinciding with the Zika virus outbreak. There are also concerns that in rare instances Zika infection can lead to Guillian Barre Syndrome, a serious immune disorder affecting the nervous system. P
Pregnant women should avoid travel to areas where large outbreaks are occurring.
Am I at risk in Australia?
There is no recognised risk of Zika virus transmission by the mosquito species found in Western Australia. There is a risk in Central and North Queensland, where the Aedes mosquito is known to exist, although there are no recorded cases of Zika transmission.
Can I be vaccinated against Zika?
Unfortunately there is currently no vaccine available. Mosquito bite avoidance and safe sex is the best prevention. Use DEET based insect repellents and wear appropriate clothing. 80% of people with Zika virus have no symptoms. Those who do develop symptoms do so about 2 weeks after being bitten by infected mosquitoes. The illness is relatively mild for the majority of individuals, and includes symptoms such as a fever, rash, aching joints and muscles, lethargy and red eyes. There is no specific treatment apart from symptom relief and rest.
Because the virus is also transmitted sexually, current W.A. Health Department advice is that men who have travelled to areas of ongoing Zika transmission and whose partner is pregnant, should either abstain from sexual intercourse or use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy. The WHO advises that males should use condoms for at least 3 months after return from a Zika infected country if planning to conceive.
Testing for Zika virus is generally not recommended but can be offered in rare circumstances. This is generally done if there are symptoms or if conception is likely.