What is the Zika virus? Can I still go vacationing to a sunny and warm destination? What can I do to protect myself from this disease, which has been linked to birth defects in babies? These questions and more will be answered by our Allergies TravelingMom in this article..
Zika Virus and You
First things first. the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, better known as the CDC, only expected “limited outbreaks” of the Zika virus in the United States. But we now know there has been over 544 confirmed cases of Zika in the United States and another 836 is U.S. territories. Experts expect mosquitoes carrying the virus to hit mainland in the next month as the warm weather sets in. Guess the World Health Organization was right when they said that the virus is “spreading explosively” in the Americas. Over 4 million people are expected to be infected by year end. New York City is expected to spend millions over the next couple of years to protect their city.
With the warmer weather upon us, it’s time to get up to date with Zika and get acquainted with the Aedes aegypti mosquito — the one that most frequently transmits the Zika virus (as well as chikungunya and dengue). They love warm weather. The Aedes aegypti mosquito can be commonly found in Florida, along the Gulf Coast, and in Hawaii.
Zika Virus, Travel and You
Here are 10 things you need to know about the Zika virus.
- The areas you need to be concerned about traveling to currently are: Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, Central America, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and America Samoa. These areas are currently experiencing outbreaks. There are now confirmed locally reported cases of Zika virus in the US, but still only travel-related confirmed cases. Stepping into US Territories, particularly Puerto Rico should have you exercising more precautions. With over 832 confirmed locally acquired cases of Zika, it can no longer be considered a fluke. For an up-to-date tracking of Zika: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html
- People who need to be concerned about traveling to these high risk areas include pregnant women and those who are planning on becoming pregnant. There is believed to be a link between the Zika virus and birth defects, specifically a very serious condition called microcephaly. This condition is characterized by a small head which can indicate incomplete brain development in the baby.
- The Zika virus is NOT a new virus. It’s been around for decades, first discovered in Uganda in 1947. It’s just a new virus to the western hemisphere.
- The Zika virus is NOT deadly.
- The Zika virus is NOT contagious. You cannot catch it through casual contact with a person who is infected. If the person next to you has it, he/she cannot breath it on you, you can’t catch it if you touch them. However, an infected person who is bit by a mosquito can transmit the virus to the mosquito. That mosquito, in turn, can transmit it to the next person it bites. If you swap saliva or other bodily fluids with that person, your risk of contraction increases. There are a few confirmed case of sexual transmission, so like any other virus, exercise proper hygiene. Wash your hands, cover your mouths when sneezing.
- The Zika virus is a relatively BENIGN virus for everyone else. In fact most people have no symptoms at all. Those who do have symptoms can sometimes have fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Hang around a bunch of preschoolers and you can pretty much get the same symptoms. The worst noted symptom is temporary paralysis and the keyword is TEMPORARY. If you happen to get sick from the Zika virus, often you’ll feel better within 2-7 days with no intervention at all. The symptoms are so run of the mill about 80% of people will have the Zika virus and not even know it.
- There is no Zika virus vaccine at this time. It may be many years before a vaccine is available.
- There is a LEVEL 2 Travel Advisory for Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, Central America, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and Americas Samoa. To keep up to date on these advisories and the growing list of countries affected by the Zika virus, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Still planning on a trip? Then visit your local travel clinic to address any and all travel concerns including specific vaccinations you might need and to find out how to get access to medications locally (especially if you have children with allergies or spe. cific medical conditions).
- Take precautions to protect your skin while you are in the affected country. Use bug sprays and protective clothing including long sleeves and pants. The CDC is recommending use of sprays that have at least 20% DEET. When applying bug repellant on young children, remember it is not recommended for children under 2 months of age. Apply bug repellents on your hand and spread on child, avoiding hands as children alway put their hands in their mouths. Cover exposed skin and stay away from areas with standing water. That’s where mosquitoes like to live and breed.
- If you’ve traveled recently to any of the high risk regions and think you may have been infected with the Zika virus, your doctor can perform a blood test that will determine if you are indeed infected.
Should You Stay or Go?
A dear friend of mine, in her second trimester of pregnancy, recently asked me for some travel advice. She had a family trip booked to Turks and Caicos but the recent reports about the Zika virus had her very nervous for her unborn baby.
While early research indicates that the Zika virus has the most adverse effects in the first trimester, some have indicated that window can extend into the early second trimester. We are still learning so much about this new virus to the western hemisphere every day. New reports even indicate that the rise in microcephaly diagnosis in certain regions may be tied to a larvicide that was introduced into their local water supplies to control mosquito populations.
My advice to her was to cancel her trip to Turks and Caicos and vacation state side until her baby is born. Regardless of all the precautions she could take, from one mom to another, I knew she would spend the remainder of her entire pregnancy racked with worry about the unknown. With months to go, that’s a lot of worrying. If you are pregnant, the CDC has issued guidelines for travel and recommend that pregnant women should avoid traveling to high risk regions at this time.
As always, when traveling internationally, exercise precautions, be safe. The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has made available an awesome brochure for safe and healthy travel abroad. Feeling like you should stay state side? Check out fellow TravelingMom’s top places to visit in 2016. Happy Travels!