Red Cross volunteers in Colombia talk to a group of localsThe Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes and it is spreading through the Americas. Cases have also been confirmed in several Asian countries.

It is suspected that the virus is the cause of birth defects, such as microcephaly, which results in babies being born with underdeveloped brains.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is worried that the virus is spreading far and fast. It has declared a global public health emergency. 

Here is everything you need to know about this health crisis.

Key facts

Zika is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The same mosquito also spreads dengue fever and chikungunya.

One in four people infected with Zika develop symptoms.

Only a small proportion of people who are infected with Zika will develop complications.

Deaths from Zika are rare.

There is no vaccine against the virus.

The map below shows where cases of Zika have been confirmed.

Map showing countries where Zika cases have been reported

If you are planning to travel to an area affected by Zika, guidance is available from Public Health England.

Symptoms of Zika

Symptoms appear between two and seven days after a person has been bitten.

They include:

Mild fever
Skin rash
Conjunctivitis
Headache and joint pain

What to do if symptoms appear
  • Get medical advice.
  • Patients need rest and plenty of fluids. They should sleep under a mosquito net and wear clothes that cover their arms and legs.
  • If the symptoms worsen or there are other complications, seek medical attention.
  • If you are pregnant and believe you may have Zika, it is vital to get medical attention immediately.
How to prevent Zika

The Aedes aegypti mosquito breeds near standing water. People need to remove or cover wet and damp areas to reduce the risk of Zika, dengue and chikungunya. In countries where the mosquito exists:

  • Remove any old tyres, plant pots or containers that could fill with water.
  • Cover up containers and water tanks so mosquitoes can’t get inside them.
  • Make sure rubbish is kept in sealed bags in a bin.
  • Keep drains clear to stop water collecting.
  • Use curtains or screens treated with insecticide.
  • Wear long sleeves, trousers and a hat – the mosquitos that spread the virus bite during the day.
  • Use insect repellents recommended by the health authorities in the affected countries.
  • Share this information.
Red Cross video: what you need to know about Zika

Red Cross teams fight the virus

Local Red Cross volunteers in the Americas and Asia are spreading these messages. They have launched an awareness campaign to help people protect themselves from the virus. The message is “clean up, cover up, keep it up.”

The British Red Cross sent an expert to Panama to map cases of Zika. This helps give Red Cross teams in the in the Americas the information they need to help people deal with the outbreaks.