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Zika Virus: What Parents Need to Know

​​​​With all of the coverage in the news about the Zika virus, it is understandable that parents have questions. Here are the facts you need to know about this virus.

What is Zika?

Zika is a virus that can cause the following symptoms:

  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Joint and/or muscle pain
  • Headache

Symptoms usually clear up in less than a week, are mild, and rarely require hospitalization. However, because the disease affects people differently, only 1 in 5 of those infected will have symptoms.

Zika virus is particularly dangerous for women who are pregnant or who are planning to become pregnant because the virus affects the developing fetus in the womb. Federal health officials have confirmed the Zika virus can cause microcephaly (babies born with a small head) and other brain and physical abnormalities in infants. Because the Zika virus can affected the fetus’ developing brain and cause long-lasting negative consequences, prevention is critical.

​​Pediatrician Advice for Families: Responding to Your Concerns about Zika ​​

An expecting parent's number one wish is for a happy, healthy baby. The spread of Zika virus to the United States and the national news coverage has sparked concerns among pregnant women and their partners—as well as their extended family and friends. ​​​

In this video, David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement (NCSCB) at the University of Southern California and Carolina Peña, MD, FAAP, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, West Los Angeles, provide expectant parents and their families with some basic information about the risks of Zika infection during pregnancy and recommends strategies to deal with stress if they are worried. Dr. Schonfeld and Dr Peña also address what expectant parents can do or expect if Zika virus infection is suspected or known during pregnancy. ​​


See the corresponding handout, Pediatrician Advice for Families: Responding to Your Concerns about Zika​, for more information. 

How Does Zika Spread?


Mosquitoes can carry Zika from person to person. If a pregnant woman is infected, the Zika virus can be transmitted to her baby while she is pregnant or around the time of birth. Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite both indoors and outdoors, mostly during the daytime. Some cases of Zika virus have been confirmed in the United States

As the weather becomes warmer, more mosquitos will circulate. Parents should take steps to help their children protect themselves from mosquito bites​ and make sure that anyone else who cares for their children will do this, as well.

Sexual Transmission

Men who live in or have traveled to areas where the Zika virus is spreading should use condoms during sex with a pregnant partner or abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy. If you are not pregnant, but planning to try to become pregnant, you should wait at least 6 months, for men, and 8 weeks, for women, after symptoms start or last possible exposure to try. Talk to your doctor if you are planning on trying to get pregnant and may have been exposed to Zika. Also, refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ​for information on protecting yourself from sexual transmission.


The CDC is still reviewing data on whether the virus can be transmitted through saliva and urine and is not making a recommendation related to those fluids at this time. The American Association of Blood Banks and American Red Cross are asking people not to donate blood within 28 days of traveling to affected areas. Women who are breastfeeding and become infected with Zika should continue to breastfeed their babies as there have been no reports of transmission of the virus through breastmilk.

Travel Warning

Until more is known about the Zika virus, the CDC has specific warnings for women and women trying to become pregnant. 

  • Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.

  • Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.

  • Pregnant women who have traveled to such areas where the Zika virus is spreading should be tested within two to 12 weeks even if they don't show symptoms.

  • Women trying to become pregnant or who are thinking about becoming pregnant should talk with their doctor before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.

Click here for an up-to-date list of areas with ongoing Zika virus activity.


The best way to prevent getting infected with Zika virus in areas where it is found is to take the following steps to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants or clothing made of fabrics treated insect repellent, such as permethrin. When possible, choose clothing made with thicker fabric as mosquitos can bite through thin cloth.

  • Use insect repellents.  Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding can and should choose EPA-registered insect repellents and use them according to their product labels.

  • Stay and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms, or use a mosquito bed net (a permethrin treated bed net is best).

Check CDC's Zika Travel Information website frequently for the most up-to-date recommendations.


There are no vaccines or treatment currently available to prevent or treat Zika infection. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the country's medical research agency, is conducting research to better understand Zika's effects on the body, to develop tests that can quickly identify the virus in people, and to find treatments that might be effective.  

The NIH is working quickly to find answers that Americans and people across the globe need in the face of this rapidly emerging infectious disease.

Additional Information from CDC:

  • Mosquito Bites Are Bad​ (Activity Book) - The CDC has created this activity book to offer parents and educators an interactive way to talk to kids about how mosquito bites can make you sick. It is important to note that mosquito bites can spread viruses like West Nile, Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and others. 

Additional Resources: 

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2017)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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