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Zika Virus

Information updated on August 9, 2016

Zika virus causes infection in humans and is transmitted by mosquitoes found in South and Central America, the Caribbean and in southern parts of North America, as well as many tropical and sub-tropical areas around the world. The virus was originally only found in Africa and Asia, and first reported in the Western Hemisphere in 2015. Outbreaks of Zika virus infection have now been reported in many countries in the Americas, including the United States, and it is likely that outbreaks will occur in more countries.  

The infection is usually mild and lasts for a week or less. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy is of particular concern as the infection may affect the baby and result in birth defects.  There is also a link between Zika and Guillain Barré syndrome  -  a rare condition where the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system causing weakness or paralysis of the muscles. Although Zika is not a new virus, our knowledge about it continues to advance. 

This is a rapidly evolving situation and particularly relevant to Canadian travellers. Information will be updated as it becomes available. 

Updates from the Public health Agency of Canada can be found on their website.  

How Zika virus spreads

Zika is spread mainly through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes, the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses. These mosquitoes are not found in Canada. Studies on the ability of other mosquitoes to carry the virus continue.

The virus can be spread from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth. Transmission can also occur through blood transfusion. However, persons in Canada will not be allowed to donate blood for 21 days after returning from travel to a risk area. Zika virus can be transmitted sexually. 


Approximately 80 per cent of people with Zika virus infection may not be aware that they have been infected. If symptoms occur, these may include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes).  

Who is at risk

Anyone who lives in or travels to areas where Zika virus is found and has not already been infected can get it from mosquito bites. The virus is rapidly spreading in many countries in the Americas where the Aedes mosquito is present.  There have also been outbreaks in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Because there is a link to birth defects, such as microcephaly, in babies, becoming infected with Zika is of particular concern to women who are pregnant, those who are planning to become pregnant and their sexual partners. 


The recommendations for testing may change as the situation evolves.

Testing may be considered for individuals with a history of travel to an area where Zika is found AND one or both of the following criteria:
  • Is pregnant;   
  • Presents with a clinical illness compatible with Zika virus infection. 

Countries and Territories with Zika Virus Transmission

Review a list of countries with active Zika virus transmission (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Information for Travellers

Refer to Public Health Agency of Canada’s website for various travel health fact sheets.
Insect bite precautions are explained in detail in the Travel Health and Safety - Insect Bite Prevention section on Government of Canada's website. 

For more information see Zika virus fact sheet.

If you become ill after having travelled and see your health care provider, remember to tell them that you have travelled.

See the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Travel Health Notices

Resources for Health Care Providers

Remember to ask your patients about their travel history.

Prevention, Treatment, Diagnosis and Laboratory Testing

Currently all laboratory specimens collected in Saskatchewan for testing of Zika virus infection will be sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg. 

All laboratory specimens must be accompanied with the necessary information on the accompanying viral zoonoses requisition form which can be downloaded from the NML’s Guide to Services 

Clinical Management

Additional guidance on clinical management of pregnant women and women of reproductive age with possible Zika virus exposure and infants with possible congenital Zika virus infection is available at U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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