Zika virus - when to get tested in the UK
Have you travelled to a Zika-affected country? Understand who might benefit from getting tested for the Zika virus.
The Zika virus is usually pretty harmless for most people, potentially causing mild flu-like symptoms. However, it can cause problems if you're pregnant or are planning to conceive soon.
Learn about the risks of the Zika virus, how to stay safe, and who can get tested for it in the UK.
- What is the Zika virus?
- Symptoms of the Zika virus
- What is the risk of Zika to pregnant women and babies?
- How Zika can affect when to get pregnant
- Three steps to help avoid Zika
- How to test for Zika in the UK
What is the Zika virus?
The Zika virus is a tropical disease similar to dengue and yellow fever. Infected mosquitos carry and spread the virus in affected countries – you won’t find them in the UK.
Much less commonly, the virus can also spread through sexual contact or blood transfusions with an infected person.
Zika-affected countries are in areas of:
- South East Asia
- the Pacific Islands
- South and Central America
- the Caribbean
Symptoms of the Zika virus
Most people with Zika have few or no symptoms, meaning you may not know if you have caught the virus. Only around one in five infected people will experience symptoms – and they’re usually quite mild.
The Zika virus can cause mild viral-type symptoms - similar to those of a cold or flu-like illness. If you do have symptoms, they’ll usually last around two to seven days.
Symptoms of the Zika virus include:
- joint and muscle pain
What is the risk of Zika to pregnant women and babies?
Areas with high Zika virus rates see more babies born with microcephaly, which is an unusually small head.
When an infection passes from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby, there is a risk that it can cause problems with brain and head growth.
How Zika can affect when to get pregnant
If you have travelled to a Zika-affected country and are planning to conceive then you are strongly advised to delay getting pregnant for three months after you return.
The recommended period to wait before trying for a baby differs depending if you're a man or a woman .
- Women who travelled to a Zika endemic area without their partner should wait eight weeks after their return (or recovery from Zika infection) before trying for a baby.
- Men should wait three months after their return (or recovery from Zika infection) before trying for a baby. This is because the virus can survive for three months in the male reproductive system.
Can you protect yourself from the Zika virus?
The mosquitos that carry Zika are most active during the day. You’ll need to be cautious around the clock, but take extra measures in the daytime.
Protecting yourself from Zika may be important to you if you are pregnant or plan to conceive soon. If this is you, consider whether travel to an infected area is essential or whether it can be postponed.
Secondly, if your travel is essential, we strongly urge you to get advice from a medical professional. Your nurse, GP, or pharmacist will take you through the steps that you can take to help avoid contracting the Zika virus.
Three steps to help avoid Zika
- Use at least 50% DEET-based insect repellent on your skin.
- Sleep under mosquito nets that are treated with insecticide.
- Wear loose clothing that covers your arms and legs.
Is there a treatment for the Zika virus?
Currently, there is no treatment for the virus. If you are pregnant and have a current or recent infection, ultrasound tests will help check the baby’s growth.
How to test for Zika in the UK
If you have returned from an infected area within two weeks and have cold or flu-like symptoms, a Zika blood test can help detect an infection.
Our Zika Virus Antibodies Blood Test (Flavivirus) measures two antibodies to the Zika virus to check for a current or previous infection. This is a venous blood test, meaning a blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm.
If you're unsure if this test is right for you, please call our friendly customer care team: 03450 600 600.
- NHS Choices (2019). Zika virus. [online] NHS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/zika/.
- CDC (2020). Couples Trying to Conceive | Zika and Pregnancy | CDC. [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/pregnancy/zika/testing-follow-up/couples-trying-to-conceive.html.
- Public Health England (2016). Zika virus: sample testing advice. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/zika-virus-sample-testing-advice.