Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus in the same family as West Nile virus, dengue, and yellow fever virus. The disease is transmitted primarily through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitos, but transmission through sexual contact and blood transfusion is also possible.
Most people who contract the disease exhibit no symptoms; others present mild symptoms such as mild fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, headache, and malaise. Symptoms usually last from two to seven days. There is currently no vaccine for Zika virus, and no effective antiviral treatment exists. The disease is usually mild, however, and typically requires no more than bedrest and administration of over-the-counter medicines to relieve symptoms.
Although the disease is usually not life-threatening, Zika virus has been linked to certain serious health complications. Zika has been associated with congenital brain defects in infants, including microcephaly (stunted brain development, which can lead to cognitive impairments and related problems), if a woman is infected with the virus while pregnant. Zika may also trigger Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder which causes the body’s immune system to attack its own nerves. Guillain-Barre Syndrome causes temporary muscle weakness and paralysis, and may lead to permanent and/or life-threatening complications. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “[i]ntense efforts are continuing to investigate the link between Zika virus and a range of neurological disorders.”