The Zika Virus: What you need to know

Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive are being advised not to travel to areas affected by the Zika virus, which now may include Europe - find out more

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What is the Zika Virus?

Zika fever is a viral illness transmitted by Aedas mosquitoes. It has an association with microcephaly, a condition in which the head and brain are unusually small, and which can occur in the womb or in infancy. For this reason, women who are pregnant or trying to conceive are being advised to avoid visiting locations where cases of Zika have been reported.

Why might it be spreading to Europe?

It is thought that the warmer summer weather could bring Aedas mosquitoes (which carry the virus) to Europe. The World Health Organisation has said the risk of contracting Zika various from country to country. The areas classified as high risk are the Madeira Island in Portugal and the northeastern Black Sea Coast. The areas where there is 'moderate' risk are:

France, Italy, Malta, Croatia, Israel, Spain Monaco, San Marino, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Georgia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. 


Which countries are definitely affected?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now issued warnings for the following countries in Central and South America:

Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, the US Virgin Islands and Venezuela.

Cases have also been reported in Cape Verde. The advice for travellers is being updated on a weekly basis, so check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website to stay informed.

Should I cancel my holiday?

Currently the FCO advises that "Travellers who are pregnant (in any trimester) or planning to become pregnant [...] should consider avoiding travel to an area where active Zika transmission is being reported."

Will my insurance cover me if I have to cancel my trip?

ABTA have advised that if you are already pregnant and have a doctor's certificate saying you should not travel, your insurance claim should be straightforward. If you are pregnant and book a trip in a month or two, you may find your insurance company refuses to reimburse you on the grounds that you should have been aware of the dangers.

Can I minimise my chances of catching Zika?

There is currently no vaccination or medication available for Zika.

The FCO advises: "If travel is unavoidable [...] take scrupulous measures to avoid mosquito bites during both daytime and night time hours. Aedes mosquitoes predominantly bite during the day and also around dawn and dusk (as opposed to mosquitoes that transmit malaria, which bite at night between dusk and dawn)."

The FCO adds: "Whilst almost all cases of Zika are acquired via mosquito bites, a small number of cases have occurred through sexual transmission or by transmission from mother to foetus via the placenta." 

What are the symptoms?

The majority of people infected will not display symptoms - only one in four, according to WHO. For those that do display symptoms, Zika virus generally causes a mild illness lasting between two and seven days. Typical symptoms include:

  • a low-grade fever
  • joint pain (with possible swelling mainly in the smaller joints of the hands and feet)
  • itching
  • rash
  • conjunctivitis/red eyes
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • eye pain

When should I visit a doctor?

If you have just returned from a country where Zika has been reported, inform your obstetrician or midwife straight away.

Otherwise, WHO advice states "Zika virus disease is usually relatively mild and requires no specific treatment. People sick with Zika virus should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, they should seek medical care and advice."

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Last updated: 5 months ago