Currently, there is no vaccine or specific treatment for Zika. Your best protection is to avoid infection. Prevent mosquito breeding, protect yourself from mosquito bites, and practice safe sex. Be especially cautious if you are pregnant, traveling, or spend time outdoors.
How Do You Get Zika?
Zika virus mainly spreads through mosquito bites. The virus can pass from a pregnant woman to her unborn child. It can also spread from an infected person through sexual contact. There are reports of the virus spreading through blood transfusions. There have not been any reports of pets or other kinds of animals spreading or becoming infected with Zika.
Not all mosquitoes transmit Zika virus. Zika is primarily spread through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito (A. aegypti and possibly A. albopictus). These mosquitoes are found throughout Texas and can be active year-round in parts of South Texas that experience mild winters. They typically lay eggs on the walls of water-filled containers like buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots, and vases. They live indoors and outdoors and are most active between dawn and dusk.
Infected people can transmit Zika virus to mosquitoes even if they’re not sick. If a mosquito bites an infected person, it can pass Zika virus to other people it bites after seven to 10 days.
Although some cases of local transmission have been reported in Texas, most Texas cases of Zika are related to travel. These travel-related cases involve people who were bitten by an infected mosquito while traveling to an area where Zika is being spread and then diagnosed after returning home.
A person infected with Zika can pass the virus to his or her sex partner. Zika can be passed through any form of sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Research shows Zika virus might stay in semen longer than in blood. Studies to determine how long Zika virus stays in semen are ongoing, but current estimates indicate it could be as long as 6 months.
Mother to Unborn Child
If infected with Zika while pregnant, a mother can also pass the virus to her unborn child. Zika infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects and developmental delays. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, learn about Prevention during Pregnancy.
To date, there have not been any confirmed blood transfusion transmission cases in the United States. Blood donations in the U.S. are screened for Zika virus, as recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Upon donation, blood donors may be asked by the blood donation center to answer questions regarding travel history and other questions related to possible recent Zika infection.
More Transmission Information
More information about Zika virus transmission is available on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
How Can I Avoid Infection?
Prevent Mosquito Breeding
- At least weekly, empty or remove trash cans, buckets, old tires, pots, plant saucers, and other containers that hold water.
- Keep gutters clear of debris and standing water.
- Remove standing water around structures and from flat roofs.
- Change water in pet dishes daily.
- Rinse and scrub vases and other indoor water containers weekly.
- Change water in wading pools and bird baths several times a week.
- Maintain backyard pools or hot tubs.
- Cover trash containers.
- Water lawns and gardens carefully so water does not stand for several days.
- Screen rain barrels and openings to water tanks or cisterns.
- Treat front and back door areas of homes with residual insecticides if mosquitoes are abundant nearby.
- If mosquito problems persist, consider pesticide applications for vegetation around the home.
Read the CDC's website on Controlling Mosquitoes at Home for more information.
Prevent Mosquito Bites
- Wear Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. When used as directed, these insect repellents—including those that contain DEET—are proven safe and effective even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
- Mosquito Repellent Available as a Statewide Benefit – for Medicaid and other state programs
- Cover up with long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Keep mosquitoes out by keeping doors and windows closed and/or installing window screens.
- Limit outdoor activities during peak mosquito times. Zika-carrying mosquitoes are most active between dawn and dusk.
- Avoid travel to regions where Zika is found.
If you have been exposed to Zika and experience Zika symptoms, it's important to protect others from getting sick by avoiding mosquito bites the first week of illness.
Prevent Sexual Transmission
The most reliable way to avoid sexual transmission of Zika virus is to abstain from sex. You can reduce your risk of getting Zika through sex (including vaginal, anal, and oral sex) by using barrier contraceptive methods, such as condoms, consistently and correctly. Be especially cautious when you or your partner travels to or lives in an area where Zika is found .
Prevention during Pregnancy
Zika virus is linked to the birth defects and other developmental delays. One possible defect is microcephaly, a condition where a baby's head is much smaller than expected. The virus is also known to cause other poor birth outcomes in some women infected during their pregnancy, such as miscarriage and stillbirth.
Discuss with your doctor any history of potential exposure to Zika and/or Zika-like illness that you or your sex partner may have had.
The CDC also recommends that all pregnant women who have a sex partner (male or female) who has traveled to or resides in an area with Zika use barrier contraceptive methods, such as condoms, every time they have sex, or they should not have sex during the pregnancy.
Prevention for Travelers
Outbreaks of Zika have occurred in many countries. Because the virus spreads from place to place through human travel, DSHS encourages people to follow the CDC's travel precautions for countries and regions where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women should not travel to areas affected by Zika.
Most Texas cases of Zika are related to travel. These travel-related cases involve people who were infected while visiting areas where Zika is being spread and then diagnosed after returning home.
DSHS recommends travelers prevent infection by
- avoiding mosquito exposure,
- taking precautions against sexual transmission, and
- Using screens or closing windows and doors.
Travelers should avoid mosquito bites for 21 days following their return or the onset of illness. Travelers should also use EPA-registered insect repellents to prevent spreading the virus to mosquitoes in Texas. Travelers should also take precautions against sexual transmission to their partner for a timeframe of either 8 weeks or 6 months after returning from travel, depending on the specific situation. See the CDC guidance on Sexual Transmission & Prevention of Zika for more details.
Prevention for Outdoor Workers
If you work or spend a lot of time outdoors, there is a greater chance that you could be bitten by a mosquito that may carry Zika virus.
When you’re outside, wear clothing that covers exposed skin. This can include hats with mosquito netting and socks to cover your ankles. In warmer weather, wear lightweight, loose-fitting pants and long-sleeve shirts.
Improve your outdoor settings by removing standing water in bins, bottles, buckets, tires, and wheel barrows. Cover trash cans or containers where water can collect.
Additional information from the CDC about protecting workers from Zika can be found in Interim Guidance for Protecting Workers from Occupational Exposure to Zika Virus.
Take Action in Communities
Local leaders can take action to help protect communities from Zika virus:
- Provide monitoring and surveillance of mosquito activity.
- Improve mosquito abatement efforts.
- Develop a local plan for mosquito reduction and surveillance; plan for extra control measures, if needed.
- Encourage people to report illegal dumpsites and standing water, and respond quickly to these complaints.
- Clean up illegal dumpsites and collect heavy trash.
- Keep public drains and ditches clear of weeds and trash so water will not collect.
- Treat standing water with larvicide (such as mosquito "dunks") when the water will be present for more than seven days.
- Conduct neighborhood outreach about what people can do to protect themselves and their families from mosquito bites.
Vector control professionals can read the CDC's Mosquito Control recommendations for more information.
Local public health leaders can visit our Zika Response page for additional information and resources.