Skeeter-Treater’s Travel Tips: Zika
Planning a trip to the Riviera Maya, Cancun, or the Caribbean? You may be aware you now need a passport for such travels. Are you also aware these regions are home to several deadly mosquito-borne illnesses, including Zika? Here’s what you need to know about traveling to regions where Zika is a known risk and how to protect yourself from becoming infected.
Zika – A Growing Mosquito-borne Threat
As yet seen most commonly in tropical and subtropical areas, Zika is a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, which are among our most common mosquito in the United States. Zika has been working its way further north over the past decade or so. Within the last year, documented cases of the virus transmitted locally have been reported in Texas and Florida. In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, mosquito populations in these areas are expected to explode. And while FEMA is taking measures to combat the surge of mosquitoes, extra caution should be taken by those traveling to these states. Local transmissions (cases of an infected mosquito biting and transmitting the disease to a human) have also been seen in Mexico, South America, Africa, Asia, and in the Caribbean and Pacific Islands. The virus can also be transmitted sexually, with the virus surviving in semen for up to six months. The CDC strongly warns anyone who is pregnant, or considering becoming pregnant, against traveling to a known region where Zika is present.
Because there is no vaccine or specific treatment for Zika, you will need to take precautions against mosquito bites anytime you travel to a region known to have infected mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that transmit the virus are aggressive daytime and nighttime biters, which means you’ll want to protect yourself anytime you venture outdoors. Wear long sleeves and pants and use an EPA-registered insect repellent. Determine if you’re more attractive to mosquitoes and what additional steps to take if you are. Additionally, sleep in an air conditioned room with screens on the windows and doors or use bed netting to prevent being bitten at night.
Symptoms and Treatment of the Zika Virus
Symptoms are mild, lasting 7-10 days, and are often mistaken or overlooked as something less severe. People rarely get sick enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, which results in many often not realizing they’ve been infected. If you develop symptoms after visiting an area where Zika is a known threat, be sure to consult with your doctor. The virus has been shown to trigger Guillian-Barré, a nervous system illness, in some. More significantly, an infection during pregnancy can cause severe brain defects in the baby, including microcephaly among others.