What Families Need to Know about Zika


Zika is a virus that can cause fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (pink eye). One in five people infected with the Zika virus will develop symptoms. The illness is usually mild in healthy adults and children, and may last from several days to a week. If you or your child develops these symptoms and has traveled to an area known to have Zika, talk to your doctor. Tylenol can be used for fever or pain. Aspirin and NSAIDS (such as ibuprofen) should be avoided.

The Zika virus can be spread in one of three ways: 1) through the bite of an infected mosquito; 2) from a pregnant woman infected with Zika to her developing fetus; and 3) through sexual transmission. Those at most risk for serious problems are pregnant women, due to the possible effects on the developing fetus. Infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition in which a baby has a smaller head than normal. If you are pregnant or are considering becoming pregnant in the next several months, consider avoiding these areas where Zika is a risk.

If you are pregnant and already living in an area with Zika or must travel to an area with Zika, take steps to prevent Zika infection.

Zika can also be transmitted through sexual contact. Men who may have been exposed to Zika should use condoms for at least six months to avoid infecting their partners. It is also recommended that people wait to conceive (six months for men and eight weeks for women) after the possible Zika exposure. Men with possible exposure should also use condoms when having sex with a pregnant partner or abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy. Couples who are planning to conceive and may have been exposed to Zika should talk to their healthcare provider.

If you have a baby who is affected by Zika, talk to your baby’s doctor. In Tennessee, there are resources for families with children who have been affected by Zika.

In 2016, 66 travelers returned to Tennessee infected with Zika. In each of those cases, the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) and the Tennessee medical community worked quickly to ensure the virus would not spread to others.

Tips to Prevent the Spread of Zika

  • Pregnant women should avoid travel to areas with Zika virus
  • Pregnant women who must travel to areas with Zika should talk to their doctor and follow tips to avoid mosquito bites
  • If a pregnant woman or her partner has traveled to an area with Zika during the pregnancy or the months prior to the pregnancy, she should be tested for Zika
  • Any person who has traveled to an area with Zika and develops symptoms should be tested for Zika

Protect Yourself and Your Family From Mosquito Bites

  • Insect repellents that have been registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are safe to use in children and in adults, including pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding.
    • Repellents containing 10 to 30 percent DEET, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus provide long-lasting protection. DEET should not be used in infants less than 2 months. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is not recommended for children under 3.
    • If you use both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first and then the repellent.
    • Do not spray repellent on the skin under your clothing.
    • Always follow the label instructions when using insect repellent or sunscreen.
  • Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs. For extra protection, spray clothing with permethrin, an insecticide that has no harmful side effects on humans if used properly.
  • Mosquito-proof your home. Use air conditioning or window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • If you aren’t able to protect yourself from mosquitoes inside your home or hotel, sleep under a mosquito bed net.
  • Help reduce the number of mosquitoes outside your home by emptying standing water from containers such as flowerpots or buckets.
  • Daytime is most dangerous, so be especially alert during daylight hours. The mosquitoes that spread Zika are aggressive daytime biters. They can also bite at night.

“We are concerned some may assume Zika is no longer a threat to their health or a threat to others if they bring the virus home with them,” said TDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Tim Jones. “All travelers should know there is still no vaccine to prevent Zika and no drug to cure it. To prevent this harmful virus from spreading in Tennessee, travelers must protect themselves from mosquito bites, avoid unprotected sex with someone who may have the disease and report quickly to their medical provider if they suspect a Zika virus infection when they return.”

Additional Resources

For the most current information on Zika virus, visit the CDC Zika website.

For information on Zika in Spanish, go to this HealthyChildren.org article.

The CDC provides a list of locations where Zika virus is known to have spread.

See the Tennessee Department of Health’s frequently asked questions about Zika.

The CDC provides Zika-related information for travelers in the U.S. and abroad.

For a variety of resources on Zika, see the TDH’s Zika webpage.

For more advice on staying safe when the weather warms up, see our water and sun safety tips.