July 12, 2018 | by Amy Treakle MD

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new alerts for traveling to areas where the Zika virus is spreading. Zika is currently present in Central and South America, Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands and Caribbean. There have also been increased reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an uncommon sickness of the nervous system. Local mosquito-bourne Zika virus transmission has been reported in the continental U.S., but not in 2018.

Transmission and Symptoms

  • Zika is spread primarily by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. It can also be spread through sexual transmission.
  • Many people infected will have mild symptoms or none at all.
  • Symptoms include muscle and joint pain, red eyes, fever, rash or headache.
  • Symptoms normally last for 2-7 days.
  • Death rarely occurs.

Since there is no treatment or vaccination for Zika, all travelers heading to areas at risk should follow the proper steps to prevent mosquito bites and prevent sexual transmission during and after a trip. Although present in many countries, transmission can vary by time of year and local eradication efforts.

Pregnancy

Zika infection during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, microcephaly, and other severe birth defects to the developing fetus. Due to their severity, women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy should not travel to any areas infected by the Zika virus. If your partner has been in an area infected by the Zika virus, use condoms or do not have sex for the duration of your pregnancy. If you live in or must travel to any of these areas, consult your doctor or other healthcare provider and strictly follow proper preventive measures.

How to Protect Yourself and Others

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or buy pre-treated items.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone.
    • When used as directed, these insect repellents are proven safe and effective even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
    • Do not use insect repellents on babies younger than 2 months old.
    • Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens.
    • Sleep under a mosquito bed net if these standards are not met.
    • Mosquito netting can be used to cover babies younger than 2 months old in carriers, strollers, or cribs.
  • Prevent sexual transmission by using condoms or not having sex.
    • If only the female partner travels, use condoms or do not have sex for at least 2 months.
    • If both partners travel or only the male partner travels, use condoms or do not have sex for at least 6 months (Zika can stay in semen longer than in other body fluids).
  • Prevent insect bites for 3 weeks after traveling to a Zika risk area to reduce transmission to local mosquitoes.

When to Test for Zika

Diagnosis of Zika is based on recent travel history, symptoms, and results of blood or urine testing. If you travel to an area infected by Zika or have sex with someone who lived in or traveled to one of these areas, you should be tested if you have symptoms. If you do not show symptoms, your doctor or healthcare provider may offer testing based on your individual situation.

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Written By: Amy Treakle MD