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Whittington Health NHSUCL


What is Zika?

Zika is a viral illness. Most people who catch Zika will not be harmed by it.

Many people get Zika without being aware of it, or just feeling a bit unwell. Other people have a fever, rash, headache, red eyes, and feel as if they have flu. Symptoms usually last about a week. The main risk is to pregnant women – if a woman who is pregnant catches Zika, the baby may be born with “microcephaly” (an abnormally small head). There is no known additional risk to children.

How do I catch Zika?

You cannot catch Zika from touching other people, or from hugging or kissing. Most people who catch Zika are infected as a result of a bite from a mosquito carrying the virus. Mosquitoes transmit the virus by biting an infected person, which leads to the mosquito carrying the virus. If that mosquito then bites an uninfected person, the bite transmits the virus into that person’s blood stream, causing them to catch Zika. Zika can also be caught from sex.

There are reports of the Zika virus living in semen for up to 6 months after a man has had symptoms of Zika. It may also be transmitted by blood products (e.g. a blood transfusion). It cannot be transmitted in urine or saliva.

What should I do if I’m pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant?

At present, the only way of preventing harm to unborn babies from Zika is for pregnant women not to go to an area where there is Zika, or if they have to travel, avoid being bitten by mosquitoes while they are there. Some countries with a lot of Zika are advising women not to get pregnant for the next couple of years, in the hope that research will have found a way of preventing or treating Zika by then.

It seems that the Zika virus can live in semen for up to 6 months after a man has been infected with Zika. So men who have had Zika are advised to use condoms for 6 months after their illness.

Which countries are affected by Zika?

Zika has been around in Africa and parts of Asia for a while, but has recently spread to South America. It is present in Brazil.

How do I avoid catching Zika if I’m travelling to an affected area?

The main thing is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. This means wearing long sleeves and long trousers, and using plenty of effective insect repellent. The most effective insect repellents are those with DEET in them. Talk to your pharmacist about which insect repellent to use. At night you should sleep under a mosquito net.

If you are travelling to a malarial area, you do also need to take medicines to prevent malaria. These medicines only prevent malaria, they do not prevent Zika.

What should I do if I think I’ve caught Zika?

If you develop a feverish illness within 12 days of visiting an area where there is Zika, you should contact your GP or NHS 111. Tell them you have a fever and have just returned from an area with Zika. You will need to have blood tests to confirm whether your illness is due to Zika or some other cause.

Zika and Diabetes

There is no evidence that Zika is a more serious illness in people with diabetes than people without diabetes. However, you should contact your GP or phone NHS 111 if you think you may have caught Zika.

You should also follow the “sick day” rules on HeLP-Diabetes:

 If you fall ill while overseas, contact a local doctor, you can get advice on what to do if ill abroad.


This information is correct now (March 2016). Doctors and researchers are working hard to find out more about Zika, so the information is likely to change. If you are planning to travel in the future, have a look at the NHS choices website for the most up to date information: