Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on January 25, 2016.
If you’ve recently visited or are planning a trip to parts of the U.S., some Pacific Islands, Cape Verde, Singapore, Central America, South America, Mexico, or the Caribbean, make sure you’re following up with the latest on the mosquito-borne Zika virus. There are now close to 60 countries where there are reports of active Zika transmission, including parts of the U.S, like Florida and Texas, and there are even more countries where the disease is endemic. You can view the full list of active transmission countries here.
While the disease’s symptoms are mild, pregnant women who become infected can have babies with birth defects (including microcephaly—being born with a small head and underdeveloped brain) and experience other poor pregnancy outcomes. Currently, the CDC has released travel warnings specific to each country and region regarding Zika, which you can read here, which are classified as Level 2 Warnings, Practice Enhanced Precautions.
Important Information About the Zika Virus
The most common symptoms, according to the CDC, are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, as well as muscle pain and headache. Although hospitalization is uncommon and the symptoms are mild, it is important to seek medical attention if you have these conditions after a trip to affected regions. The CDC warns that these symptoms are similar to that of dengue and chikungunya, so a blood test may be necessary to provide a diagnosis. Zika symptoms can last up to a week, and the time from exposure to symptoms is unknown, but it’s believed to be from anywhere from a few days to a week.
In May of 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) confirmed the first infection in Brazil. Since then, the outbreak there has led to reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome—a rare and potentially life threatening condition where patients are left paralyzed when the immune system attacks part of the nervous system, which can last for several weeks and require life support for survival. The link between Guillain-Barre syndrome and the Zika virus is currently being investigated by the CDC, according to the New York Times.
While it is a mosquito-borne virus, it’s now known that the disease can also be spread through sexual contact.
What to Do if You’re Traveling to These Areas
There is currently no vaccine or medication for the virus, so mosquito-bite prevention is key. Using EPA-registered insect repellents, covering exposed skin, wearing light colored clothing, sleeping inside or in screened-in rooms, and wearing pre-treated clothing and gear can help prevent bites. See more on the CDC’s prevention tips here.
If you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant it’s extremely important to discuss your options with your doctor since the virus can be spread to the fetus. There have been 4,000 cases of microcephaly reported in Brazil over the last year, and El Salvador is warning women to avoid getting pregnant until 2018 in order to control the outbreak. Because of this and other factors, the CDC is now recommending that pregnant women do not travel to any area with a Level 2 Warning. The CDC is also warning all pregnant women to be assessed for Zika at every prenatal visit if they have traveled to a country with a Zika travel restriction or if they have had sex with a partner who has traveled or lived in an area with a Zika outbreak.
After Travel to an Active Zika Virus Country
The CDC recommends taking the following precautions after visiting a country with active Zika transmission, here is Anguilla for an example:
“If you travel to [Anguilla], you should take steps to prevent mosquito bites for 3 weeks after your trip, even if you don’t feel sick, so that you don’t spread Zika to uninfected mosquitoes that can spread the virus to other people.
If you have visited [Anguilla] and have a pregnant partner, you should either use condoms or not have sex during the pregnancy.
If you are thinking about pregnancy, talk with your health care provider and wait to become pregnant (see ‘Women Trying to Become Pregnant‘ for how long to wait). You also should use condoms after travel to protect your sex partners from Zika even if you are not pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
If you feel sick and think you may have Zika:
- Talk to your doctor if you develop a fever with a rash, joint pain, or red eyes. Tell him or her about your travel.
- Take acetaminophen (paracetamol) to relieve fever and pain. Do not take aspirin, products containing aspirin, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen.
- Get lots of rest and drink plenty of liquids.
If you are pregnant:
Talk to a doctor or other health care provider after your trip, even if you don’t feel sick. Pregnant travelers returning from [Anguilla], or who have had possible sexual exposure, should be offered testing for Zika virus infection.
- If you develop a fever with a rash, joint pain, or red eyes, talk to your doctor immediately and tell him or her about your travel or possible sexual exposure.
- If you do not have symptoms, testing should be offered if you see a health care provider, up to 12 weeks after you return from travel or your last possible sexual exposure.”
Since the situation changes frequently, it’s important to check the CDC’s website for the latest developments in these areas.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 5 Diseases You Can Easily Pick Up While Traveling
- 8 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Health While Traveling
- Everything You Need to Know About Travel Insurance
The CDC suggests that travelers who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant consider delaying travel to areas where the Zika virus is spreading. All travelers going to affected areas should consult with a doctor before departure, and should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites while traveling.