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Dealing with Zika

The new POLHN course, “The care and support of people affected by complications associated with the Zika virus”, will be available soon. Read below to find out more about Zika. 

Since 2007, 19 countries and areas in the Western Pacific have reported locally-acquired Zika cases, making it the second most affected region in the world after the Americas. Cases of the virus continue to be reported throughout the region.

What is Zika?

Zika is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that first appeared in Uganda in 1947. Closely related to dengue, it was first identified in the South Pacific after an outbreak in Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) in 2007, which was the first reported outbreak in the world.

The virus is typically associated with mild symptoms, namely a low-grade fever (below 38 degrees Celcius) accompanied by a maculopapular rash. Muscle and joint pain, headaches, pain behind the eyes and conjunctivitis are other common symptoms. Many people who are infected with Zika virus are be asymptomatic.  Additionally, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can lead to congenital brain anomalies such as microcephaly, and can trigger Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS) in older children and adults.  Infection with the virus it has not been associated with any deaths to date.

The Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, which, with its distinctive white markings, is common around the Pacific islands. This is the same insect that transmits dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. Onset of the virus typically occurs within 2 to 7 days of being bitten by an infected mosquito.


The best way to prevent Zika is by avoiding mosquito bites by: wearing insect repellent (containing DEET, IR3535 or icaridin  according to the product label instructions) and clothes that cover as much of the body as possible; sleeping under mosquito nets; and using physical barriers such as window screens or closing doors and windows.

It also important to ensuring clean surroundings by covering, emptying or cleaning potential mosquito breeding sites in and around houses. These include buckets, drums, pots, gutters, and used tyres.

To reduce the risk of sexual transmission, it is recommended that pregnant women and their partners engage in safe sex, or abstain from sexual activity during pregnancy. If travelling to a Zika-infected area, pregnant women should consult a healthcare professional.


Zika virus infection is usually mild and typically requires no specific treatment. Those affected should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat associated pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, they should seek medical advice.

This article has been written in light of the new POLHN course on the care and support of people affected by complications associated with the Zika virus. The free-to-take self-paced course will be available for online completion in the coming months.