Zika Virus – Traveller Information
What is Zika virus?
Zika virus is closely related to the dengue, yellow fever and West Nile viruses. It causes a mild influenza-like illness and is transmitted by the Aedes mosquitoes that bite mostly during the day. Human to human transmission through sexual contact and during pregnancy when the disease can be transmitted from mother to unborn child has been reported.
How do I avoid it?
There is no vaccine or medication to prevent Zika. Travellers should protect themselves during the day with mosquito repellent, long sleeves, and pants. DEET repellents are safe for pregnant women to use. Aedes mosquitoes tend to be most active 2-3 hours after dawn and mid to late afternoon but if the day is overcast they may bite all day and even indoors. See Insect Precautions.
History and distribution
The Zika virus was first detected in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947. Major outbreaks were reported in 2007 in Micronesia and 2013 in French Polynesia. The virus has now reached Central and South America and is rapidly turning into an epidemic. It will continue to spread.
Fever, headaches, muscle and joint pains, fatigue, red eyes and skin rash. Sometimes there is also abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. The symptoms occur for a few days up to 12 days after infection and last about a week. Usually they are mild and disappear on their own. There is no specific treatment for Zika.
In October 2015, the Brazilian Health Authorities noted an increase in the number of newborns with microcephaly (reduced head size) and other fetal abnormalities after the mother had Zika-like symptoms during her pregnancy. Further investigation has proven that Zika virus infection during pregnancy causes microcephaly and other symptoms of congenital Zika syndrome.
Pregnant women and women trying to get pregnant during their travels or immediately afterwards should consider avoiding travel to areas where a Zika outbreak is ongoing. Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week. The virus will not cause infection in a baby that is conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood. Women who have travelled to a Zika infected area should wait 6 months after return before trying to conceive. Sexual transmission of Zika virus has been reported through vaginal, anal and oral sex. Men should wait 6 months after travel to a Zika infected area before having unprotected sex or trying to conceive.
Men who have been in Zika-infected areas should use a condom for the duration of pregnancy when their female partner is pregnant.
To read more, please see the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Travel Health Notice
See a map outlining Zika travel recommendations for pregnant women
Complications of Infection
There were increased rates of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune complication characterized by muscle weakness, reported after previous outbreaks in French Polynesia. The estimated risk of GBS during a Zika outbreak is 1/4,000 cases. Most people recover from GBS.
Should I get tested?
Zika virus testing is not indicated for returning travellers unless the traveller was pregnant during or within one month of returning from travel to a Zika virus affected area. Women who fall into this category should see their heathcare provider to discuss testing.
Zika virus occurs in:
- American Samoa
- Cape Verde
- Cook Islands
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- French Guiana
- French Polynesia
- Marshall Islands
- New Caledonia
- Puerto Rico
- Saint Martin
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Solomon Islands
- Trinidad and Tobago
- U.S. – The State of Florida
- U.S. Virgin Islands
Last updated: Oct. 5, 2016
** Note: This virus seems to be spreading rapidly so please check this website for updates/countries newly added to the list:
Book an appointment
Book your appointment today by calling 604.736.9244. You can also request a call back (for those trying to call after hours — after 5:00 pm or during the weekend).
What is the VCH Travel Clinic?
The VCH Travel Clinic is a cost-recovery clinic — meaning any money that does not go towards overhead costs, goes back into Public Health. The clinic has also been designated as the Centre of Excellence in Travel Medicine for B.C. The VCH Travel Clinic is a “one-stop shop” that provides prescriptions, health advice, vaccine recommendations, and immunizations tailored to people’s medical history and travel itinerary (all in one place). The clinic also offers travel products.
The clinic is located in Vancouver and operates a satellite clinic in Richmond.