zikaupdate

Zika Update for Spring Travelers

  • Grace Lower
Feb 14, 2017

Last year, the Zika virus was a hot topic in the news world. With the sudden uptick in cases sweeping through Northern Brazil—just in time for the Rio Olympics last summer—it wasn’t long before Zika became a household name. Stories of the virus’s public health implications dominated the headlines, leaving many travelers second-guessing their tropical vacations.

Although much of today’s news coverage has shifted to a more political focus, Zika virus is still a health concern throughout the world. With spring break just around the corner, here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re traveling to a Zika-prone area.

The Basics

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.

Impacted Areas
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are currently 61 countries across Asia, The Caribbean, Central America, The Pacific Islands, and South America with Zika-related travel advisories. In general, these areas tend to be warm and humid—ideal habitats for the Aedes mosquito and the virus it carries. Local transmission of the virus has also been reported in the United States, most notably in parts of southern Florida and Texas. For a full list of Zika-affected locations, and the details of their travel advisories, visit the CDC website.

 

Precautions to Take
Before you depart for a Zika-prone destination, public health experts recommend paying a visit your doctor. There are no treatments available to prevent or cure Zika, so it is important to learn about the risk factors based on your health and life circumstances. If you are currently pregnant, the CDC advises against traveling to areas with active Zika virus transmission. If you are planning to become pregnant in the near future, be sure to discuss your travel plans with a healthcare professional.

As you plan your trip, be aware of environments where mosquitoes thrive. Most mosquitoes prefer to breed in and near stagnant water, and they tend to be most active during the day. Also, when booking accommodations, consider staying in higher, drier locations, like mountains, rather than areas near beaches or dense forests. Try to find accommodations with screened windows and an air conditioning system, if possible, to minimize the risk of letting mosquitoes inside.

Another key way to reduce your chances of Zika exposure is to pack wisely. If you’ll be spending most of your time outdoors, consider bringing long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants and skirts. Of course, insect repellant is also helpful, especially in warmer climates. If you know you’ll be staying in a location where windows and doors will not be well-sealed, the CDC recommends packing a bed net as an extra measure of protection.

What to Do If You Think You’ve Been Exposed
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 discuss getting tested for the virus. The only way to be definitively diagnosed with Zika is through simple bloodwork in a clinical setting.  Additionally, if you plan to start a family, be aware that the Zika virus can remain in a host’s body for multiple months. The CDC recommends that men wait six months after last possible exposure before having unprotected intercourse.

Progress Made
Over the past year, government-based, NGO, and private groups have been working to study and combat Zika. On February 8, 2016, President Obama requested $1.8 billion in emergency funds to promote research and development for Zika treatment, while educating at-risk populations about the virus. Last April, the CDC was able to confirm the connection between Zika and birth defects. An additional $1.1 billion of additional funding was granted in September to further benefit organizations working toward a cure. And in November of 2016, the World Health Organization declared that Zika is no longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Although Zika presents an enduring public health challenge, research and educational initiatives are making great progress in minimizing the virus’s effects.

As the weather warms up and your vacation plans finalize, be sure to take the necessary precautions to protect you and your family from the Zika virus. Do your research, talk to your doctors, and pack your bug-spray. A well-prepared traveler can play a key role in stopping the spread.

About the Author

Grace Lower

Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.

Read more of Grace’s blogs

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