Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Zika Virus and Travel - What you need to Know!


The Zika Virus was first discovered by Yellow Fever researchers from an infected research monkey in the Zika Forest of Uganda, in the late 1940's. 

In the early 1950's researchers discovered that the virus was infecting humans, and most people tested who were age 40 or older had immunity to the disease, probably from earlier infections of the Zika Virus. Those tested lived throughout Africa, Asia, and India. Researchers indicate that these populations also seem to have developed some levels of immunity, and are less affected. Some will never show symptoms of having been infected.

From its discovery, until 2007, humans tested, showed evidence of the disease, but actual confirmed cases of the Zika Virus were rare.

In 2007, islanders in Micronesia experienced the first epidemic outbreak of Zika, Since then epidemics have occurred in Polynesia, Cook Islands, Easter Island, and New Caledonia.

Despite the irresponsible rhetoric of fear mongerers, and conspiracy theorists, it is not a man-made disease intended for use by clandestine organizations bent on dominating the world.


In 2015, the virus spread to Brazil, probably from foreign visitors attending the World's Cup. There, the virus quickly spread across South and Central America, Caribbean Islands, and Mexico. 

It has reached pandemic levels in those regions, and will likely continue to spread due to the amount of world travelers visiting these popular destinations. People living in these regions have no history with the disease, no immunities within the population, and thus greater possibility for it to spread.

Due to risks affecting travelers, the Centers for Disease Control in the US, and its foreign counterparts, have issued travel advisories, so the public can be informed of the risks, range of possible infection, symptoms, and prevention methods.

How to Avoid the Disease

The Zika Virus is transmitted almost exclusively through the Aedes genus of mosquitoes.* Unfortunately, this type of mosquito is found around the world. If its a temperate, warm, moist, climate, its highly likely that the mosquito lives in the region. (*sexual transmission has occurred, but is extremely rare, and limited in scope and probability. Safe Sex practices, while infected, nearly completely eliminate the risk of transmission)

No vaccines currently exist. While it may take until 2018 to have them fully developed, it may be longer still, due to government hurdles, before the vaccine would become available to the public.

Expecting mothers and those planning to become pregnant are strongly advised to take every precaution against infection, as the mother can transmit the virus to the infant, causing severe birth defects, abnormal delivery, and perhaps other complications to the child, including death. In fact some Central American countries are advising women against pregnancy, until a viable vaccine is available.

To lessen the probability of acquiring the virus, the most simple option would be to limit the frequency of travel to the affected areas.  This option is neither ideal for tourism or business, and frankly, not necessary.

The Best approach is to limit the risk of bites from mosquitoes, through reducing exposure, and applying repellents.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends the following:

  • Products with one of the following active ingredients can also help prevent mosquito bites. Higher percentages of active ingredient provide longer protection.
    • DEET
    • Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023, Bayrepel, and icaridin. Products containing picaridin include Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan [outside the US])
    • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD (Products containing OLE include Repel and Off! Botanicals)
    • IR3535 (Products containing IR3535 include Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart)
  • Always follow product directions and reapply as directed.
    • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second.
    • Follow package directions when applying repellent on children. Avoid applying repellent to their hands, eyes, and mouth.
  • Consider using permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents). You can buy pre-treated clothing and gear or treat them yourself.
    • Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See the product information to find out how long the protection will last.
    • If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
    • Do not use permethrin directly on skin.

What other steps should I take to prevent bug bites?

  • Prevent mosquito bites.
    • Cover exposed skin by wearing long sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
    • Stay and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms.
    • Use a bed net if the area where you are sleeping is exposed to the outdoors.

What if I get Sick?

First, the virus is not fatal to most people. You will feel lousy, but you are not likely to need hospitalization.

If within 2 weeks from returning abroad, you begin to feel joint, muscle, or eye pain, develop a fever or rash; you need to be seen by a doctor. Be sure to tell them that you have recently traveled. They will be better prepared to make sure you are treated properly, and recover as quickly as possible.

Why all the Fuss?

It may seem like a small matter, if the disease isn't likely to be life-threatening. You might be inclined to think that after all the precautions, if I do get sick, I'll just "suck it up" like the last bout with the flu, and then I'll be fine.

The challenge is, while you are ill, you can transmit the disease to others via mosquitoes. That mosquito can carry the disease for up to 21 days, infecting others, who then also have it transmitted to other vectors. This is exactly how a few (or one) foreign travelers caused the Zika pandemic in the Western Hemisphere.

The danger is that infants are at tremendous risk. As the disease spreads among the Western Hemisphere, newborns are increasingly born with defects tied to the Zika virus.  In some affected areas, up to 1% of children are born with microencephaly; a condition of  a small brain and skull that causes intellectual disabilities, development delays, and can cause death.

Certainly you would want to reduce or limit the spread of this disease, especially if you could prevent it from coming to the United States and Canada. Its not currently north of Puerto Rico and Mexico. Vigilance among the traveling public will go far in reducing or eliminating an epidemic in the US.

Here is a graphic that shows the probable range of the mosquitoes capable of spreading the disease in the United States.

For further information, check with your  Healthcare Provider, and review information as it is updated at the Centers for Disease Control - Zika Website.

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