With the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero and many summer vacations planned to destinations in Latin America, U.S. citizens are understandably concerned about Zika virus and their travel plans. Here are a few questions and answers to take into consideration when making decisions about travel to affected destinations.
1. Where has there been an outbreak of Zika virus?
There have been over 30 countries to date that have reported Zika outbreaks. The Pan American Health Organization and the CDC are publishing updates on affected areas.
2. What are the effects of Zika?
On most people, the effects are very mild. The majority of people who contract Zika are asymptomatic. Fever, joint pain, headaches, a rash and conjunctivitis (pink eye) can also be symptoms of Zika. If you have any of these symptoms while on holiday, you should consult a physician.
Some pregnant women who have contracted Zika have delivered babies with a birth defect called microcephaly. Microcephaly is when the baby’s brain does not develop properly. There is enough evidence to suggest a correlation between exposure to Zika and microcephaly that pregnant women are being asked to reconsider all non-essential travel to affected regions and those who must travel have been advised to take “scrupulous” measures to avoid exposure.
3. I’m planning a trip to a country with an outbreak. Should I go?
Only pregnant women or women who are attempting to become pregnant and their partners have been advised to avoid countries affected by the Zika virus.
4. Is it safe to get pregnant after I visit an affected area?
The Center for Disease Control states that Zika stays active in the blood for one week in women and up to two weeks in men. The virus will not cause infections in a baby after it has been cleared from the blood. There has been no evidence to suggest that the Zika virus poses a risk of birth defects in future pregnancies.
5. Ok, I’m sold. How can I avoid mosquito bites while traveling in Zika-affected areas?
Zika is spread by a variety of mosquito (the Aedes aegypti) that is most active during daytime hours. A few ways to minimize your chances of being exposed:
• Cover up! Long sleeves and long pants are your best defense.
• Liberal use of insect repellent with the active ingredients DEET or picaridin is key.
• Apply your sunscreen BEFORE applying repellent to lock it in. Otherwise, you’ll dilute or even eliminate effectiveness.
• Keep doors and windows closed if you’ve got the luxury of air conditioning.
Finally, check out this useful cheat sheet the CDC issued for folks traveling to Rio this summer. It’s got loads of good tips on how to protect yourself.
One more important point worth mentioning: If you are pregnant and need to reschedule/cancel your trip, most of the major airlines are offering liberal cancellation changes to your ticket without fees/penalties. Here are some of the major airlines and the links to their policies relating to Zika: