Zika virus disease is mainly spread by infected mosquitoes biting humans. For most people it’s a very mild infection and is not harmful.
But it may be more serious for pregnant women (or women trying to get pregnant), as there is evidence it causes birth defects – in particular, abnormal brain development (Microcephaly) and temporary paralysis (Guillain-Barré syndrome).
The Cayman Islands have a history of previous Zika virus transmission. There is currently no evidence of an ongoing Zika virus outbreak and at present the risk of transmitting Zika in Cayman is categorised as ‘very low’ by the NHS.
Zika can spread in several ways, including through the bite of an infected mosquito, from a pregnant woman to her developing foetus, and through sex with a person who is infected.
Treatment includes supportive care of symptoms. There is no antiviral treatment available.
Zika Virus infection is caused by the Zika Virus (ZIKV) belonging to the Flaviviridae family. The virus is primarily transmitted by infected daytime biting female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which are typically active from dawn to dusk.
Symptoms can last for several days to a week. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. Once a person has been infected with Zika, they are likely to be protected from future infections.
Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other severe brain defects. It is also linked to other problems, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, and other birth defects. There have also been increased reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an uncommon sickness of the nervous system, in areas affected by Zika.
Most people have minimal symptoms or no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they’re usually mild and last around 2 to 7 days.
Commonly reported symptoms include:
- A rash
- Itching all over the body
- A high temperature
- A headache
- Joint pain (with possible swelling, mainly in the smaller joints of the hands and feet)
- Muscle pain
- Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
- Lower back pain
- Pain behind the eyes
How to Stay Safe
The best way to protect yourself against the Zika virus is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes. The following can reduce your risk of being bitten:
- Use mosquito repellents
- Products with DEET and Picaridin provide the best protection (not suitable for infants younger than 2 months)
- Find a repellent that perfectly suits your needs
- If sunscreen is also needed, apply sunscreen first and repellent second
- During peak mosquito hours (late afternoon), wear lose but protective clothing – mosquitoes can bite through tight-fitting clothes
- When indoors, stay in air-conditioned or screen areas
- Pre-soak or spray outer layer clothing with permethrin
Because Zika is a cause of severe birth defects, pregnant travellers (or women trying to get pregnant) should discuss their travel plans with a health care provider, carefully consider the risks of travel, and take extra precaution to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
There have also been a small number of reports of Zika virus being passed on through sexual intercourse. Although the risk is thought to be low, use condoms or avoid having sex to protect against Zika during travel.
Another precaution you can take is to reduce the Aedes aegypti population locally by clearing yards of containers that can hold water, as these are favourite breeding sites.
The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has not recommended any travel or trade restrictions in Caribbean/Latin America region.