Learn more about whether the Zika virus is fatal

Can the Zika Virus Kill You?

Check back in with the UPMC HealthBeat blog for news and updates on the Zika virus

These days, as you smack a mosquito against your skin, you can’t help but think of the Zika virus.

Zika is a newly widespread mosquito-borne illness that has made waves across Central and South America. The virus has been linked to several serious birth defects and can also be transmitted via sexual contact, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

With the continued rise of Zika, you may begin to wonder: What happens when you contract the Zika virus? And can the Zika virus kill you?

Long-Term Affects of Zika: Is the Virus Fatal?

Only two possible Zika-related deaths have been recorded in the United States, according to the CDC. Both victims were elderly patients, and it is unclear whether Zika was the sole cause of death.

While contracting the Zika virus typically is not fatal, the long-term side-effects of the virus can be devastating especially among babies infected while in-utero.

Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and infection during pregnancy can lead to several serious birth defects. Women who contract the virus during the first trimester of pregnancy appear to be most at risk.

In some cases, the birth defects can cause the mother to miscarry, however, other lasting complications from Zika-related birth defects appear to include:

  • Developmental delays
  • Seizures
  • Mental retardation
  • Feeding problems
  • Stunted growth
  • Hearing and vision loss

Zika also appears to be associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition in which your body’s immune system attacks its nerves, resulting in muscle weakness, and in rare cases, full-body paralysis.

Following hospitalization, most patients make a full recovery from Guillain-Barre. The condition is fatal in only 5 percent of patients. Though no official link has been made, the CDC does acknowledge a connection between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Zika has also been linked to microcephaly, a rare neurological disorder in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than it should be. This usually results in incomplete brain development and can be life-threatening.

Is Zika Curable?

No vaccine that can cure or prevent Zika yet exists. Studies are underway to identify a vaccine that will work to prevent infection from the Zika Virus.

Due to the link between pregnant women and children born with birth defects, there is a particular focus on developing a vaccine for women who are or could become pregnant.

To protect yourself from the Zika virus take steps to prevent mosquito bites by using repellant and wearing long sleeves and pants, and avoid travel to areas with mosquitos known to carry the virus.