International travel and health

Travel health advice on Zika virus


Updated 3 October 2016

1. Overview

Zika virus and its complications such as microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome represent a new type of public health threat with long-term consequences for families, communities and countries.

Based on a systematic review of the literature up to 30 May 2016, WHO has concluded that Zika virus infection during pregnancy is a cause of congenital brain abnormalities, including microcephaly; and that Zika virus is a trigger of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

This website will be regularly updated with advice to national authorities and health care practitioners on travel health issues related to Zika virus.

2. National authorities

In the context of Zika virus, countries are advised that:

  • There should be no general restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas and/or territories with Zika virus transmission.
  • Standard WHO recommendations regarding vector control at airports should be implemented in keeping with the IHR (2005). Countries should consider the disinsection of aircraft.

With regard to surveillance, health workers and the health sector should be on alert specifically for Zika virus disease in travellers returning from affected countries. It is important that travellers and health care practitioners are informed on a range of issues before, during and after travel to areas with Zika virus transmission. Health authorities should:

  • Provide up-to-date advice to travellers on how to reduce the risk of becoming infected, including preventing mosquito bites and practicing safer sex.
  • Advise travellers from areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission to practice safer sex or abstinence for at least 6 months and not to donate blood for at least 1 month after return, to reduce the potential risk of onwards transmission.
  • Advise pregnant women not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks.
  • Advise pregnant women whose sexual partners live in or travel to areas with ongoing or recent Zika virus outbreaks to ensure safe sexual practices or abstain from sex for the duration of their pregnancy.
  • Alert health care practitioners to the possibility of Zika virus infection in symptomatic travellers with a recent history of travel to areas of known, ongoing Zika virus transmission and areas at risk of transmission.
  • Provide health care practitioners with clear guidance on how to refer travellers with suspected Zika virus infection to appropriate management and testing.

3. Health care practitioners

Health care practitioners advising travellers should:

  • Provide travellers to areas with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks with up-to-date advice on how to reduce the risk of becoming infected, including preventing mosquito bites and practicing safer sex.
  • Advise travellers to practice safer sex or consider abstinence for at least 6 months and not to donate blood for at least 1 month after return, to reduce the potential risk of onwards transmission.
  • Advise pregnant women not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks.
  • Advise pregnant women whose sexual partners live in or travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks to ensure safer sexual practices or abstain from sex for the duration of their pregnancy.

Health care practitioners treating patients who have returned from areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission should:

  • Consider Zika virus infection in patients with acute fever, rash, arthralgia, or conjunctivitis, who have travelled to countries affected by Zika virus in the 2 weeks prior to onset of illness.
  • If Zika virus is suspected, send appropriate samples for testing (together with a full travel and clinical history with relevant dates) as early as possible to the relevant reference laboratory.
  • Report suspected cases of Zika virus disease to the relevant state or local health authorities.
  • Be alert for any increase in neurological syndromes, autoimmune syndromes or congenital malformations in neonates born to parents with a history of travel to areas with Zika virus transmission.
  • Assess and monitor pregnant women who have travelled to areas with Zika virus transmission.
  • Evaluate fetuses and infants of women infected with Zika virus during pregnancy for possible neurological syndromes or congenital malformations.

Related links

Publications and technical guidance

This page links all WHO information to its response on the Public Health Emergency of International Concern.