Not long ago, most people had never heard of Zika virus. In the past year it has become a well-known global health threat to pregnant women and their developing babies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged pregnant women and couples who are thinking about having a baby soon to avoid travel to areas with Zika.
That doesn’t mean you don’t need to think about Zika if you’re not pregnant or trying to get pregnant. All travelers should take steps to avoid Zika so they don’t get infected and spread the virus to others.
Before the trip: Know your destination
Check the CDC website before your trip for updated information about Zika virus in your travel destination, said Dr. Matthew Hall, a Marshfield Clinic infectious disease specialist. You don’t want to arrive and be unprepared for Zika.
“Consider a travel medicine evaluation before doing any foreign travel,” Hall said. “Your doctor can explain how to avoid Zika and give vaccines to protect you from other illnesses during your trip.”
During the trip: Prevent mosquito bites
Protecting yourself from Zika virus is similar to protecting yourself from other mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria, dengue and yellow fever, Hall said.
Hall recommends these steps to prevent mosquito bites:
- Wear long-sleeved pants and shirts.
- Use permethrin-treated clothes and gear.
- Use EPA-registered insect repellants. If also using sunscreen, apply insect repellant on top of it.
- Sleep in a screened-in, air-conditioned room or under a mosquito bed net.
- Cover babies’ strollers, cribs and carriers with mosquito netting.
The CDC also recommends using condoms during your trip because Zika can be transmitted sexually.
After the trip: Protect others
Most people infected with Zika virus don’t get sick, but see a doctor if you notice these symptoms within two weeks of your trip:
- Low-grade fever
- Joint pain or swelling
- Muscle aches
- Red eyes
People can spread Zika virus even without symptoms, so take steps to protect others once you’re home.
Protect yourself from mosquito bites for three weeks after your trip. If you’re infected, a mosquito that bites you can spread the virus to others.
Women who have traveled to a Zika area should wait at least eight weeks after their last possible exposure or the start of symptoms before trying to get pregnant. Men should wait at least six months before trying to conceive with their partner. People who may have been exposed to Zika virus should use condoms during the post-travel waiting period, according to the CDC.
If your partner is pregnant and you’ve traveled to a Zika area, use condoms for the rest of the pregnancy.
Zika is a known cause of a birth defect called microcephaly.
“The effects of Zika virus on fetuses can be so serious I recommend taking the CDC’s advice very seriously,” Hall said.
Plan to disclose your recent travel history if you donate blood. The American Red Cross urges people who may have been exposed to Zika to delay blood donation for four weeks. There have been no confirmed cases of blood transfusion transmission of Zika virus in the U.S. to date.