An update on the Zika virus – how to protect yourself

pregnant womanIt’s all over the news. Here’s what you need to know to about the Zika virus.

Understand Zika

  • If you become infected with Zika during pregnancy, it causes serious problems for your baby. Zika infection during pregnancy causes microcephaly and other serious brain problems. Zika also may be linked to miscarriage, growth problems in the womb, hearing loss and problems with the eyes.
  • You can catch the Zika virus by being bitten by an infected Aedes mosquito. Mosquitos carrying the Zika virus are found in tropical areas, such as the Americas, Southern Asia, Africa and Western pacific. See this map for an up-to-date view of Zika affected areas.
  • You may also get the Zika virus through a blood transfusion or by having sex with a man who is infected with Zika. Zika has been found in semen for at least 2 weeks and possibly up to 10 weeks after getting infected. There have been no reports of women infecting their partners.

According to the CDC:

  • A mother already infected with Zika virus near the time of delivery can pass on the virus to her newborn around the time of birth, but this is rare.
  • Zika virus can be passed from a mother to her fetus during pregnancy. We are studying how Zika affects pregnancies.
  • To date, there are no reports of infants getting Zika virus through breastfeeding. Because of the benefits of breastfeeding, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed even in areas where Zika virus is found.


Most people who have the Zika virus may not have any signs or symptoms. Others may have many symptoms including headache, fever, joint or muscle pain, pink eye, pain behind the eyes, rash and vomiting. If you have traveled to a Zika-affected area and have signs and symptoms, contact your health care provider.

What can you do?

Protect yourself. If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant:

  • Don’t travel to a Zika-affected area unless you absolutely must. If you do visit these areas, talk to your health care provider before you travel.
  • Don’t have unprotected sex with a partner who may be infected with Zika or who has recently travelled to a Zika-affected area. If you do have sex, use a condom.
  • If you have plans to travel to an affected area, be sure to check the CDC’s website for advisories.

Take steps to avoid mosquito bites. Use an insect repellent (bug spray) but be sure to follow these tips:

  • Choose one that’s registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (also called EPA). All EPA-registered insect repellents are checked to make sure they’re safe and work well. These sprays contain substances, like DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus, that are safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • Carefully follow the instructions on the product label.
  • If you use sunscreen, put sunscreen on first and then the bug spray.
  • Don’t put insect repellent on your skin under clothes.

Learn other important tips for protecting yourself and your family from mosquito bites on our website.

Speak out and tell Congress there’s no time to lose! Urge Congress to pass Zika funding to prevent Zika from gaining a foothold in the U.S.

If you have been exposed to Zika

Contact your health care provider if you have been exposed to Zika. He may test your blood for signs of the virus.

If you have lived in or traveled to a Zika-affected area and have given birth, or if your baby has symptoms of the Zika virus, seek medical attention. Your baby’s provider will follow guidelines for testing and management.

Bottom line

Zika is a very serious virus that causes microcephaly. Read our article for more detailed information, including how Zika spreads, signs and symptoms of the disease, who should get tested, what to do if you travelled to or live in a Zika affected area, and what to do if you think your baby may be affected.

Pregnant? Trying to conceive? See the CDC’s Q/A page on Zika and pregnant women.

Have more questions? Send them to

Updated April 14, 2016