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How to Protect Yourself from Zika While Traveling

Travel Team | Jan 6, 2022

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Zika first became a hot topic leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil. The swift uptick in outbreaks caused many to question their plans to travel to tropical destinations, especially women who are or hope to soon become pregnant. With a concern like this, having travel medical insurance or  trip insurance can help safeguard you and your vacation!

As we enter the 2018 hurricane season, the risk for Zika has resurfaced. In addition to the destruction to houses and property, hurricanes leave the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. For example, after 2017’s Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported outbreaks of Zika in both Florida and Texas, and there is still an active warning against pregnant women traveling to Puerto Rico after the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.

While adult mosquitoes do not generally survive high winds during a hurricane, mosquitos lay eggs in the soil near the floodwater of the aftermath. The sheer increase in the volume of active mosquitos directly correlates to the increased risk of contracting an illness — such as Zika — from a mosquito bite. This risk can last anywhere from two weeks to two months after a hurricane, even in areas that did not flood but received more rain than normal.

What is Zika?

Zika is a flavivirus that’s primarily transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito — a common pest in warm, humid regions. According to the World Health Organization, the symptoms of Zika are typically quite mild and can include joint pain, fever, skin rash, and headaches. These symptoms normally last between two and seven days. Beyond that, roughly one in five individuals infected with Zika actually show symptoms — the rest recover without any noticeable changes in health.

Despite its mild symptoms, Zika remains a significant public health concern. Although mosquitoes are the primary transmitter of the virus, Zika can also be transferred through sexual intercourse and from mother to fetus. There is now scientific consensus that the virus can lead to serious pregnancy complications and birth defects, including a condition called microcephaly.

How can I protect myself?

First responders, volunteers, and residents spending more time outside cleaning up after a hurricane or flood are more likely to be bitten and should take extra steps to protect themselves, including:

  • Wearing long sleeves;
  • Discarding items that hold water such as pools, toys, or tires;
  • Using insect repellant while outdoors; and more.

Residents can also help prevent an increased population of mosquitos around their homes by removing standing water and emptying anything that could collect water such as birdbaths, flowerpots, or trash containers. This minimizes the risk of mosquitos laying eggs around the home.

If you’re traveling to an at-risk destination — such as The Caribbean, Central America, or South America — be aware of environments with stagnant water or dense forests where mosquitoes thrive. When booking accommodations, consider staying in higher, drier locations (like the mountains) and in places with screened windows and an air conditioning system.

What if I get a mosquito bite?

If you find yourself experiencing Zika-like symptoms, stay calm. Unless you are currently pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or planning to have unprotected intercourse with someone who may become pregnant, there is no significant reason to get tested for Zika. That being said, if you do fall under one of those three categories, you should contact your doctor immediately to request a blood test, as it’s the only definitive way to diagnose the virus.

Additionally, if you plan to start a family, be aware that the Zika virus can remain in a host’s body for multiple months.

With summer travel ramping up alongside hurricane season, be sure to take the necessary precautions to protect you and your family from the Zika virus. A well-prepared traveler can play a key role in stopping the spread.

For a full list of Zika-affected locations, and the details of their travel advisories, visit the CDC website.

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