The first cases of Zika virus infection were reported in Africa and Asia in the 1950s. In 2015, the virus appeared in Brazil, in South America. It then spread to Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico. In 2016, a Zika virus outbreak was reported for the first time in Brownsville, Texas, and in Miami-Dade, in Florida. This outbreak caused few cases. No other outbreak has been reported since 2018 in the continental United States.
To find out if a country is at risk of Zika virus transmission, go to the page Travel advice and advisories by destination on Health Canada’s website and select the country. The information on diseases spread by insects, like the Zika virus, are under the “Health” tab.
The Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. The mosquitos that most often transmit the virus are found in many countries but are not found in Québec or in other parts of Canada. Our climate conditions are not conducive to their development.
The incubation period for the Zika virus is 3 to 14 days. Most people infected by the virus (75 to 80%) do not have symptoms or have only mild symptoms. When symptoms appear, they are generally mild and last 2 to 7 days. The main symptoms are:
- Low-grade fever (38.5°C or lower)
- Muscle or joint pain, with possible swelling of the joints of the hands and feet
- Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
- Skin rashes with small bumps on the face and body
- Weakness, lack of energy and headaches
In rare cases, the Zika virus can cause more serious illnesses such as:
- Guillain-Barré syndrome (a problem associated with the nervous system)
- Premature birth, miscarriage or abnormalities in newborns (ex., the baby’s head is smaller than normal) when a woman is infected with the virus during pregnancy
Currently, there is no vaccine or treatment for Zika virus infection. Most infected people recover without treatment.
The Zika virus is usually spread through the bite of an infected mosquito.
It can also be transmitted during vaginal, anal and oral sex, or when sharing sex toys up to several weeks after infection. A person who is pregnant can also transmit the virus to their fœtuses during pregnancy.
The virus can be transmitted during a blood transfusion, but this is very rare. As a precautionary measure, Héma-Québec requires people who have travelled outside of the continental United States or in Europe wait 21 days after their return to Canada to donate blood. This measure is intended to prevent the risks associated with the transmission of the Zika virus and similar viruses, such as the dengue fever and chikungunya viruses.
Protection and prevention
Travellers who visit countries with recent or ongoing risk of Zika virus infection should take measures to prevent mosquito bites. For example, they should:
- Use mosquito repellent at all times during outdoor activities, even during the day
- Wear long and light-coloured clothing
- Put screens on doors and windows
More examples of measures to prevent mosquito bites are available on the page Protecting yourself from mosquito and tick bites.
These measures protect against mosquito bites that can spread several diseases, including the Zika virus, chikungunya, malaria and dengue.
People who travel to areas where the Zika virus is circulating should also protect themselves properly during sex by using a barrier method (a condom, for example) in order to prevent transmission of the virus. The use of a condom is recommended during vaginal, anal and oral sex, or when sharing sex toys, with all partners for the duration of the trip. Men should continue to use a condom for 3 months after their trip and women should do so for 2 months after their return.
It is particularly important to follow these recommendations when a person who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant is involved in sexual contact.
For health advice for people planning to travel to countries where there is active transmission of the Zika virus, see the Government of Canada’s travel health notices .
Special precautions for people who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant
People who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should postpone all travel to an area or a country with recent or ongoing risk of Zika virus infection by mosquito bite .
People who are pregnant who cannot postpone their trip should discuss it with their prenatal health-care professional. They should also strictly apply personal measures to prevent mosquito bites.
In order to prevent pregnancy, people traveling to a Zika-affected area should particularly respect protective and preventive measures by using an effective barrier method (such as a condom) throughout the duration of their trip and for up to 2 months after their return.
Surveillance of the Zika virus in Québec
Public health has been monitoring the Zika virus since 2016 and the virus was added to the list of reportable diseases in October 2019.
In 2016, a large number of cases were reported (88) during a significant Zika outbreak in Central and South America. Since then, the number of cases has varied between 0 and 23 per year.
Nearly all of these cases developed after a mosquito bite during a trip outside Canada.
Situation in Canada
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the risk of contracting the Zika virus is low for Canadians. It is mostly limited to people who travel or who live in Zika-affected areas. In Canada, cases of Zika virus infection have been confirmed in people who were infected outside the country, by sexual transmission or by transmission from a mother to her fœtus. Information on these cases is provided on the page Surveillance of Zika on the Government of Canada’s website.
Last update: September 25, 2023