Zika- It’s the word on the news lately causing people to reconsider their travel plans to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. But how dangerous is this mosquito spread illness, and do you really need to give up that dream trip to Machu Picchu? Here is the summary of what you should know:
- Around 80% Zika infections are asymptomatic. That means if you do contract Zika, more likely than not you will not even know. When symptoms do appear, they are usually mild. In very rare cases hospitalization is needed. In the millions of people diagnosed in the past 60 years, there have been five confirmed deaths. Compare that to the 26 deaths in Las Vegas alone from the common flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to the Las Vegas Sun. It makes Zika seem a little less scary.
- If you are pregnant or there is a chance you could get pregnant during your travels, you should absolutely avoid the Zika infected countries. It is strongly suspected that when a pregnant woman is infected, their child could be born with an abnormally small skull. There are other possible linked birth defects as well, but the research hasn’t come in yet. Also if you have a compromised immune system, you should consult your doctor about the risks of a Zika infection prior to travel.
- Prevention is really easy. A mosquito repellent containing DEET has proven time and again to ward off those pests and prevent them from biting. There are two species of mosquito known to carry the virus, and they tend to bite during the day. It still doesn’t hurt to sleep with a mosquito net if your room isn’t sealed. Light colored clothing is less likely to attract them, and wearing long sleeves and pants can be a big help too. Besides, areas that have active Zika transmission could also have dengue fever and you should be protecting yourself anyway.
- There is no vaccine currently, and the one they are working on is likely a decade away. If you do become infected though, you do become resistant to future infections, just like the chicken pox.
- If you are in the 20% of Zika infected people that experience symptoms, they are very similar to dengue fever. You may have fever, rash, red eyes, and joint pain. The best thing to do is rest and stay hydrated. Make sure to take extra care to avoid mosquito bites as to protect other people from getting infected. It is advised to avoid and instead take Tylenol if you are in need of pain relief.
For a majority of travelers, Zika is not a reason to cancel your plans! It is easy to blow the news reports out of proportion and become afraid. It is good to take precaution, but for most people Zika will end up being the least of their travel worries.
The technical information and statistics in this piece are cited from the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. If you would like to know more about which countries have active transmission, how prevent and treat the disease, and answers to common Zika questions, visit their website at www.cdc.gov/zika/.