Despite the winter weather of the past week, it’s time to begin thinking about spring and summer travel plans—and ways to stay healthy and safe while traveling. One important step is to review travel alerts issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC recently issued a Travel Alert Level 2 for regions and certain countries in Central and South America, advising people to “Practice Enhanced Precautions” due to ongoing Zika virus transmission.
Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika virus disease.
Travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites:
- Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or IR3535. (Pregnant and breastfeeding women can use all EPA-registered insect repellents, including DEET, according to the product label. Most repellents, including DEET, can be used on children ages two months and older.)
- Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear such as boots, pants, socks and tents.
- Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.
The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild, with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe illness requiring hospitalization is uncommon, and many infected people show no symptoms at all.
However, Zika virus can also spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby. There have been reports of a serious birth defect called microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. Until more is known about this possible link, the CDC discourages pregnant women from traveling to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing and recommends special precautions for women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, including talking to a doctor about the risks and strictly following steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.
Although Zika virus outbreaks have been reported in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands since 2007, it was not reported in the Western Hemisphere until May 2015. As of Jan. 15, 2016, local transmission had been identified in at least 14 countries or territories in the Americas, including Puerto Rico. Further spread to other countries in the region is likely. For the most current information about areas where Zika virus, visit wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information.
Local transmission of Zika virus has not been documented in the continental United States. However, Zika virus infections have been reported in travelers returning to the United States. With the recent outbreaks in the Americas, the number of Zika virus disease cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States likely will increase. If infected travelers are bitten by mosquitos, those mosquitos can then spread the virus locally to other humans.