If you’ve recently visited or are planning a trip to Central America, South America, Mexico, or the Caribbean, make sure you’re following up with the latest on the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
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 a Level 2 (Practice Enhanced Precautions) travel alert for those traveling to the affected regions. Barbados, Saint Martin, Mexico, and Puerto Rico are among the list of 22 countries. View the full list here.
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 last year, 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 threating 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.
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There have been no known reports of locally transmitted Zika cases in the U.S., but there have been at least a dozen cases in returning travelers. This number is expected to increase, which could result in locally transmitted cases of the virus, according to the CDC. There has also been one case of a baby born in Hawaii with microcephaly linked to the Zika virus in the mother, and there are instances of locally transmitted cases in Puerto Rico.
While it is a mosquito-borne virus, there has been one case of a possible spread through blood transfusion and one report of the virus being possibly spread through sexual contact.
There is currently no vaccine or medication for the virus, so mosquito-bite prevention is key. Using EPA-registered insect repellents, sleeping inside or in screened-in rooms, and wearing pre-treated clothing and gear can help. 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.
Since the situation changes frequently, it’s important to check the CDC’s website for the latest developments in these areas.