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Zika Virus: What You Need To Know

Written by Ava Axelson, Peer reviewed by Xiaochen Liu, Edited by Courtney Coleman


Zika virus (ZIKV) is known to have mild flu-like symptoms, and it is a huge public health issue due to the extreme effects it has on pregnant women and newborn children. Zika virus is a flavivirus transmitted by mosquito bites, primarily by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Some countries that are at a high risk for Zika virus include Vietnam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and many more. There is a very high potential for emergence of Zika virus in urban centers in the tropics that are infested with competent mosquito vectors (1). As Zika virus outbreaks continue to spread, it becomes a more pressing and important public health issue, as it has the potential to cause many neurological issues in patients, especially newborn children.


The Zika virus can be transmitted from the enzootic cycle of monkeys to the human epidemic cycle by the bite of a mosquito. These infected mosquitos vector, therefore, and infect humans in an epidemic cycle (2). There are many ways that humans can pass on the Zika virus to one another, such as through sexual transmission and blood transfusion. The virus can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her child. This can be very dangerous and may lead to potential neurological complications for the child.

Symptoms and Treatments:

As shown in Figure 1, ZIKV infections are symptomatic in only ~20–25% of infected individuals, their symptoms being a mild and self-limited illness with an incubation period of 4–10 days (3). These symptoms are described as flu-like, with most patients experiencing fever, rash, arthritis, headache, and/or vomiting, to name a few; however, in extreme cases, Guillain-Barré syndrome may occur. Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system, causing tingling, muscle weakness, paralysis, and even death (3). Newborn children can have neurological complications when the mother is infected with ZIKV during pregnancy, such as microcephaly. Microcephaly is a neurological condition in which the brain of a baby does not develop properly, causing the head to be smaller than normal (3). So, although only ~20-25% of people infected with ZIKV are symptomatic, there can be very extreme neurological conditions in children caused by the virus. So far, there is no vaccine or clinically approved drug to treat Zika Virus.

Figure 1: Amount of Population that Shows Symptoms


Works Cited

1. Musso, Didier, and Duane J Gubler. “Zika Virus.” Clinical microbiology reviews vol. 29,3 (2016): 487-524. doi:10.1128/CMR.00072-15

2. Pielnaa, Paul et al. “Zika virus-spread, epidemiology, genome, transmission cycle, clinical manifestation, associated challenges, vaccine and antiviral drug development.” Virology vol. 543 (2020): 34-42. doi:10.1016/j.virol.2020.01.015

3. Song, Byung-Hak et al. “Zika virus: History, epidemiology, transmission, and clinical presentation.” Journal of neuroimmunology vol. 308 (2017): 50-64.



This post is not a substitute for professional advice. If you believe that you may beexperiencing a medical emergency, please contact your primary care physician, orgo to the nearest Emergency Room. Results from ongoing research is constantlyevolving. This post contains information that was last updated on April 10, 2023.


Ava Axelson is currently a Public Health and Psychology major undergraduate at UC Berkeley.

Xiaochen Liu is a 5th year Ph.D. student in Epidemiology focusing on the genomic risk factor in Alcoholic-associated Hepatitis at UC Irvine.

Courtney Coleman is a master's degree candidate in biology at Harvard and Co-President of Students vs Pandemics.

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