Zika virus: Advice for travellers
Updated: February 12, 2018
- Update to WHO links for most recent Zika virus data and format changes to enhance readability.
Where is Zika virus a concern?
Zika virus is a concern in the following regions:
- The Caribbean
- Central America & Mexico
- South America
- Southeast Asia
- Ocean Pacific Islands
- Central and West Africa
To find out if a specific destination is an at risk area, consult the list of countries with recent or ongoing risk of Zika virus infection.
The United States has reported four cases of Zika virus infection transmitted locally by mosquitoes in the states of Florida and Texas in the 2016 and 2017. At this time, transmission of Zika virus is considered a low risk in the United States.
What is Zika virus and how is it spread?
Zika is a virus which typically causes mild illness lasting only a few days. Many people who are infected do not develop any symptoms and do not know that they have been infected. However, Zika virus infection in a pregnant woman can pose significant risks to the fetus, even if the woman does not develop symptoms of infection.
Symptoms of Zika virus can include fever, headache, conjunctivitis (pink eye), skin rash and joint and muscle pain.
Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. It can also be spread from:
- A pregnant woman infected with Zika virus to her developing fetus.
- A person infected with Zika virus to a sexual partner.
- A person infected with Zika virus who donates cells, blood or tissue.
There is no vaccine or medication that protects against or treats Zika virus infection.
Why should you be concerned?
Zika virus is mainly a concern for pregnant women, partners of pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy. Zika can cause serious birth defects including abnormally small heads (microcephaly), brain abnormalities, vision and hearing loss, and more.
There have also been increased reports of a serious nervous system disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome in areas where the Zika virus is circulating.
Who should avoid travel to a Zika affected country?
Pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should avoid travel to countries with recent or ongoing risk of Zika virus. The Zika virus infection increases the risk for serious birth defects. Women can pass the virus to their unborn babies.
- If you cannot avoid or postpone travel, talk to a health care professional about the risk of Zika infection in pregnancy and follow strict mosquito bite prevention measures.
The Zika virus infection can be sexually transmitted and men can carry the Zika virus in their semen for up to 6 months. Partners should be aware of the risk so they can make informed travel decisions and take appropriate precautions.
How can you protect yourself from Zika virus?
Before your trip:
Consult the list of countries to determine the risk of Zika virus infection at your destination.
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
During your trip:
All travellers should prevent mosquito bites during the day and night when travelling to countries or areas at risk for Zika.
The mosquito that transmits the Zika virus usually bites during the day but can also bite at night. It is generally not found at altitudes above 2,000 meters.
- Use insect repellent on exposed skin
- Cover up: wear light-coloured, long–sleeved shirts and long pants
- Stay in rooms with air conditioning and places that have intact window and door screens.
- Use bed nets: they can also cover playpens, cribs or strollers
- Learn more about mosquito bite prevention for travellers.
After your trip:
See your health care provider, if you have symptoms that could be consistent with Zika virus infection, especially if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.
- Tell them where you have been travelling or living.
For women planning a pregnancy, it is strongly recommended that you wait at least 2 months before trying to conceive to ensure that any possible Zika virus infection has cleared your body.
For male travellers, Zika virus can persist for an extended period of time in the semen of infected males, therefore it is strongly recommended that:
- If you have a pregnant partner, you should use condoms or avoid having sex for the duration of the pregnancy.
- You and your partner should wait 6 months before trying to conceive. Use condoms or avoid having sex during that time.
- You should consider using condoms or avoid having sex with any partner for 6 months.
Information for Health Professionals
Useful resources for clinical guidance:
- Committee to Advise on Tropical Medicine and Travel Canadian Recommendations on the Prevention and Treatment of Zika Virus
- The Zika virus: Counselling travellers (tip sheet) - A guide for health professionals
- Zika virus: Information for health professionals (tip sheet) - Prepare for patients seeking a diagnosis
Registration of Canadians Abroad
Sign up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad (ROCA) service to stay connected with the Government of Canada in case of an emergency abroad or an emergency at home.
- Government of Canada – Zika virus fact sheet
- Committee to Advise on Tropical Medicine and Travel – Canadian Recommendations on the Prevention and Treatment of Zika Virus for Canadian Health Care Professionals
- World Health Organization - Zika virus fact sheet
- World Health Organization - Zika virus disease
- World Health Organization - Zika virus classification tables
- Pan American Health Organization – Zika virus infection
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