At the height of the outbreak in 2016, more than 200,000 probable cases of acute Zika virus disease were reported in Brazil, according to the World Health Organization. Travelers were warned about visiting the 68 countries where Zika was prevalent.

But as quickly as Zika ramped up — and made headlines — the epidemic faded from public view. WHO declared the end of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern in November 2016, and focus changed from emergency response to long-term commitment for prevention and control.

Does this mean that the threat has passed? Global Rescue experts say no, pointing to the Zika outbreak in Northwestern India in March 2019.

“Zika is present in Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, tropical areas of Southeast Asia, Oceania and parts of Africa. All travelers are at risk,” said Global Rescue’s medical operations personnel. “Real-time data isn’t always available and there are delays in reporting new cases.”

If you are traveling outside of the continental United States, you should check to see if there have been Zika outbreaks in your destination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a Zika travel map, and Global Rescue members have access to the latest health and security information through the My Global Rescue App.

As a refresher guide, here are some frequently asked questions regarding Zika.

What are the origins of the Zika virus?

The Zika virus was discovered in 1947 in Zika Forest, Uganda. The virus was found to be present in Uganda’s Rhesus monkey population and the Aedes africanus mosquito.The first humans infected with Zika virus disease were reported in 1954 in Nigeria. The virus remained endemic to parts of Africa and Asia, until an outbreak on Yap Island in the South Pacific in 2013. Other Pacific Islands including New Caledonia, Cook Islands and Easter Island have reported outbreaks.

In October 2015 the CDC published reports from the Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil which confirmed cases of Zika virus disease in Camaçari, Bahia, Brazil. Further reports from Brazil in May 2015 reported pregnant women who became infected with Zika virus disease had an increased risk of birth defects such as microcephaly.

Oahu, Hawaii reported the first case of ZVD-related microcephaly in the United States. The infant’s mother had lived in Brazil during her pregnancy and the infant was likely infected within the womb, as hypothesized by Hawaiian Department of Health officials and the CDC.

How does someone become infected with the Zika virus?

Zika virus disease is an acute viral illness of humans transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito that has previously fed on a person infected with the Zika virus. There is also emerging evidence to suggest maternal–fetal transmission also may occur near the time of delivery or late in pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of the Zika virus?

Zika symptoms include sudden fever with rash, joint and body pain, headache and conjunctivitis. Symptoms are usually mild and last from several days to a week. Approximately 1 in 5 people infected with the Zika virus will develop symptoms.

What is the risk for pregnant women?

Women who are infected with the Zika virus who are pregnant, or become pregnant, are at an increased risk of birth defects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a list of countries with past or current Zika virus activity. Their current guidance notes “until more is known, and out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant.”

The CDC further advises women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant should consult with their health care provider before traveling to these areas.

How can I protect myself against the Zika virus?

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus disease, and no medication available to treat Zika virus infection. Prevention of bites by infected Aedes mosquitos is the only effective means of avoiding infection while traveling in regions where the Zika virus is present. 

Zika prevention techniques may include:

  • Using insect repellents containing either DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or certain oil of lemon-eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol products.
  • Application of sunscreen first and then insect repellent. (Always follow the label instructions when using insect repellent or sunscreen.)
  • Treating clothing with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated clothing.
  • When weather permits, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Using air conditioning and installing window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside. If you are not able to protect yourself from mosquitoes inside your local accommodations, sleep under a mosquito bed net.
  • Reduce the number of mosquitoes inside and outside by emptying standing water from containers, such as flowerpots or buckets.

Will Zika come to the United States?

As of 2020, the CDC reports no confirmed Zika virus disease cases from U.S. territories. However, cases have been confirmed in people who have traveled to Zika-infected countries or acquired it through sexual transmission.

Although it is impossible to predict whether the virus will spread to mosquitoes in the continental U.S., sporadic small-scale outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya — similar tropical mosquito-borne diseases spread by the Aedesmosquito — have been reported in south Florida and southern Texas.

Public health experts say any U.S. Zika outbreaks are expected to be small and short-lived. Countries that have experienced a rapid spread of Zika are poorer and lack adequate public health response capabilities, limiting their abilities to contain and combat the virus.

In the U.S., well-built homes, screened windows, air conditioning and access to mosquito preventative products are likely to limit or even prevent the spread of the virus.

Stay up-to-date on health and security risks before you travel. From daily event reports, monthly destination reports and specific information requests, a Global Rescue travel protection services membership is a perfect way to travel prepared.  Click here to learn more.