Anyone who plans to visit the tropics this summer should be wary of the Zika virus.
On April 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a level 2 travel notice (Practice Enhanced Precautions) for Zika in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Pacific Islands and Mexico. Although symptoms are typically mild, the disease has been linked to birth defects.
According to the CDC, a majority of people infected with Zika won’t show any symptoms, which include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. But the illness poses a serious risk to unborn children.
A pregnant mother who contracts Zika can give the virus to her fetus. This can result in the infant developing microcephaly, which can lead to a smaller head size and an underdeveloped brain.
As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international public health emergency on Feb. 1 to draw attention to the number of babies with microcephaly and other brain diseases in areas affected by the virus.
There is currently no vaccine for the Zika virus.
Zika is generally transmitted via the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. So far, there have been no reports of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus in the United States.
In order to avoid infecting North American mosquitoes, those traveling from the U.S. to affected regions need to take precautions to avoid bringing the virus home with them, and avoid being bitten by mosquitoes for up to three weeks upon their return.
It is recommended that women who are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant delay travel to the designated regions.
Men who have the disease can also spread it to their sex partners. In fact, the virus is capable of surviving longer in semen than in blood.
Men returning from the affected areas are encouraged to use condoms properly to avoid spreading the virus. If their partner is pregnant, condoms should be used throughout the entire period of the pregnancy, as it isn’t known how long the virus remains in semen.
Travelers can visit www.cdc.gov/zika for more about the Zika virus, including travel health notices, prevention tips and more.