Zika spotlight: Frequently asked questions

The height of mosquito season has arrived and as we wrap up our summer clinical testing spotlight—Zika, Past, Present and Futurewe realize that all of the information about the disease, its potential effects, and all of the preventive measures can be overwhelming. For that reason, we’ve narrowed down some of the most important points to remember about Zika.

Q: What is the Zika virus and how is it transmitted?

A: Zika virus infection is a disease caused by a virus transmitted primarily by the Aedes mosquitoes, typically found in tropical locations. The virus can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy. Although rare, Zika can also be spread through sexual activity, blood transfusion, and laboratory exposure.

Q: Where has the Zika virus been documented?

A: Since 2015, Zika outbreaks have occurred in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, Pacific Islands, and Brazil. By March 2016, ZIKV had spread to 33 countries with over 1.5 million cases reported, increasing to 40 countries as of July 2016. In the United States, from January 1, 2015 to September 6, 2017, 5,411 symptomatic Zika virus cases were reported.

Q: Who is at risk for Zika virus infection?

A: Anyone who lives or travels to areas where the Aedes mosquitoes are found may be at risk.

Q: What are the signs and symptoms of Zika virus infection?

A: Most people infected do not display symptoms. Those who do, experience mild symptoms such as fever, rash, headache, joint pain, red eyes, and muscle pain which typically last several days up to one week. However, a pregnant woman, even one without symptoms, can pass Zika to her developing fetus. Zika infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects.

Q: What is the potential risk of Zika infection during pregnancy?

A: Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus.  Infection during pregnancy can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.  Microcephaly is a birth defect in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age.  Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly.  It is not clear how likely it is that Zika infection will affect pregnancy, nor if a baby will have birth defects if the mother is infected while pregnant.

 Q: Who should be tested for a Zika infection?


CDC recommends Zika virus testing for:

  • Anyone with possible Zika virus exposure* who has or recently experienced symptoms of Zika.
  • Symptomatic pregnant women with possible Zika virus exposure
  • Asymptomatic pregnant women with ongoing possible Zika virus exposure
  • Pregnant women with possible Zika virus exposure who have a fetus with prenatal ultrasound findings consistent with congenital Zika virus infection

Zika testing may be considered for:

  • Asymptomatic pregnant women with recent possible but no ongoing exposure to Zika virus (i.e., travelers)

Zika virus testing is not recommended for:

  • Non-pregnant asymptomatic individuals
  • Preconception screening

Q: Which tests are recommended for diagnosing Zika virus infection?

A: CDC-recommended tests include Zika viral RNA and/or antibody tests.

Q: Where can I get more information?

A: Additional information about Zika may be found directly through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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