Though the headlines Zika virus attracted during the lead-up to the 2016 Rio Summer Games have all but disappeared, it remains a significant health concern in many areas of the world.
The following is the latest information on how best to protect yourself should you plan to travel to areas where Zika virus transmission occurs.
1. HOW IS ZIKA VIRUS SPREAD? Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of infected mosquitos. These mosquitos bite during daylight and evening hours. The virus can also be transmitted sexually.
2. WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ZIKA? Most people infected with Zika virus won’t have any symptoms or will have only mild symptoms. The most common symptoms are: low-grade fever, rash, red eyes, muscle or joint pain, lack of energy and headaches.
3. HOW CAN ZIKA VIRUS INFECTION BE PREVENTED? Since there is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus infection, and no medicine to treat it, the best way to prevent Zika virus infection is to prevent mosquito bites. Here are the insect precautions to follow:
- Wear light-coloured clothing that exposes as little skin as is practicable (i.e. long-sleeved shirts, pants and a hat)
- Stay in rooms with air conditioning and places that have intact window and door screens.
- Apply an insect repellent correctly and consistently. Use a repellent containing one of the following insecticides:
- for adults, use concentrations between 20-30%, and re-apply every 6 hours;
- for children 2-12 years of age, use 10% concentration and re-apply every 3 hours;
- for children 6 months to 2 years, use 10% concentration once a day.
- 20% concentration is used for both children and adults. It may last up to 12 hours, but should be reapplied after swimming or sweating.
- Sold in Canada under the brand name PiActive or CarePlus
- Picaridin has a pleasant smell and is not sticky, which are other advantages over DEET.
- The repellent should be applied to all exposed non-sensitive areas of the body. When applying sunscreen, apply it first, wait for 15-20 minutes, then apply your insect repellent
4. WHAT ARE THE HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF ZIKA VIRUS INFECTION? Zika virus infection during pregnancy may increase the risk of severe health outcomes for the baby, such as microcephaly (an abnormally small head) and other birth defects. Zika virus infection has also been connected with Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). GBS is a rare disorder in which a person’s own immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and, sometimes, paralysis. These symptoms can last a few weeks or several months. While most people fully recover from GBS, some people sustain permanent damage.
5. WHAT SHOULD PREGNANT WOMEN DO TO PROTECT THEMSELVES AND THEIR BABY? Pregnant women should avoid travel to countries or areas of the United States with reported mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission. If travel cannot be postponed, follow strict mosquito bite prevention measures and prevent spread after returning home.
- HOW TO PREVENT SPREAD AFTER RETURNING HOME? Zika virus can be sexually transmitted.
- Female travellers:
- If you are wishing to become pregnant, wait at least 2 months after returning from travel to areas with Zika virus transmission before trying to conceive.
- If you are already pregnant, and your partner has travelled to an area with Zika virus transmission, use condoms correctly and consistently or avoid having sex for the duration of your pregnancy.
- Male travellers:
- If your partner is pregnant, use condoms correctly and consistently, or avoid having sex, for the duration of the pregnancy.
- Wait 6 months after returning from travel to areas with Zika virus transmission before trying for a pregnancy.
- Female travellers:
- Consider using condoms or avoiding sex with any partner for 6 months.
The Zika virus is circulating in many countries. To find out if it is transmitted in the area to which you plan to travel, and for more information about how to protect yourself from it, please contact your Copeman family health nurse or nurse practitioner.