Your Health Seth Stratton | one year ago

Traveling? Preparation Can Lessen Zika Fears

The Zika virus. It’s a hot topic and anxiety surrounding the virus continues to grow as cases spring up across the country.

Editor’s note: We’ve updated the articles in our three-part series about the Zika virus. Read on to learn who’s at risk, current travel advisories, prevention tips and other facts. Carolinas HealthCare System doctors answer patients’ commonly asked questions in the final article of the series. Zika: The mosquito-borne virus has women especially on edge because infection during pregnancy has been linked to birth defects in newborns. The World Health Organization has declared it an international public health emergency and encourages pregnant women, women who wish to become pregnant and their partners to avoid traveling to areas where Zika has been diagnosed. Keep in mind, it’s difficult to determine where Zika is spreading and those areas are likely to change over time. Stay up to date on the latest travel information.

Zika and the US

There have been more than 2,900 cases of Zika reported in travelers from the US and more than 40 locally-acquired cases through mosquito bites in the Wynwood neighborhood and Miami Beach areas of Florida. While there’s only a moderate risk for the virus spreading in Charlotte, public health officials encourage travelers to take proper mosquito precautions when visiting warmer climates. The CDC advises pregnant travelers not to visit affected areas including those areas with transmission in Miami, Florida. Read the CDC’s latest travel precautions for South Florida. Travelers also should be cautious on the beaches of South Carolina and Texas. They are considered high-risk areas since the climate is perfect for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a carrier of the virus. “I strongly encourage people to take proper mosquito precautions,” says Stephanie Strollo, MD, a hospital epidemiologist at Carolinas HealthCare System. “People should use EPA approved mosquito repellent, have screens on windows and doors, use air conditioning when available and dump out any standing water in planters, pools, toys, bird baths, flower pots and trash containers.”

Zika Travel Advisories

There are more than 2,900 travel-related cases and more than 40 locally-acquired mosquito-borne cases of Zika in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The only areas in the US with active Zika transmission currently are the Wynwood neighborhood and Miami Beach areas in Miami, Florida, however, further spread within the United States is possible. The CDC has put in place travel precautions for anyone visiting more than 30 destinations throughout the Caribbean, Cape Verde, Central and South America, Mexico, specific areas in South Florida, the Pacific Islands, and Singapore. “For most who aren’t currently pregnant or trying to become pregnant, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel,” says Catherine Passaretti, MD. “What is important is when you travel, be smart. Talk to your doctor about travel plans well before your date of departure. Ask about infections you may be at risk for during travel and how to prevent them.”

Symptoms and Prevention

Many people with Zika won’t even know they have it. Typically the Zika virus makes a person sick for a few days to a week. But only one in five people actually show symptoms, such as fever, headache, rash, joint pain and red eyes. Zika normally doesn’t cause severe illness or death, but researchers are still learning about the long-term effects of the virus. The main concern with Zika is the association between maternal infection and birth defects in the fetus.  Because there isn’t a vaccine or drug to prevent or treat Zika, when traveling it’s best to avoid mosquito bites altogether, according to the CDC. Since mosquitos can bite any time of day, Dr. Strollo advises the use of mosquito repellent all day long.

Zika Facts

  • The Zika virus is spread to people through infected Aedes mosquitos, through sexual contact, and bodily fluids such as blood, semen and vaginal secretions.
  • If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, practice safe sex and use condoms, especially if you or your partner have recently traveled to an area with Zika.
  • See your healthcare provider if you are pregnant and have traveled to a place where Zika has been reported.
  • The illness is usually mild and can last several days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
  • Women (symptomatic or asymptomatic) and asymptomatic men who have traveled to areas with Zika virus transmission  and who wish to become pregnant should wait at least eight weeks after symptoms began before having unprotected sex.
  • Men who may be exposed and had symptoms consistent with Zika should wait six months after symptoms began before having unprotected sex.
The next article in our Zika series will focus on the most effective mosquito repellents and other prevention tips.