The Zika Virus: 4 Things You Need to Know

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The challenges from mosquito-borne illnesses seem never-ending. Amid rising fears of the Zika virus, concerned public-health officials in Latin American and Caribbean countries have begun warning citizens against becoming pregnant, and now the CDC is asking pregnant women to avoid 22 countries that have seen outbreaks of the Zika virus.

So while the virus has yet to spread stateside, if you are planning to travel to the sunny and warm regions of Latin America, Cape Verde, or Barbados, you will want to be aware of the health threats posed by this mosquito-borne pathogen. Here’s what you should know:

Zika currently has no vaccine available

The Zika virus is of the same family of yellow fever and dengue, but it poses a higher threat, because it is without a vaccine or cure – and has been linked to birth defects. While research is underway to create a Zika vaccine, success has not yet been found in these efforts. In areas where local transmission has been identified, efforts for widespread mosquito control are encouraged, but only marginally effective.

The Zika virus is connected with neurological birth defects

Aside from the issues that the Zika virus may cause in your personal health, it’s a huge threat for expecting moms. The virus has been associated with microcephaly, which is a neurological disorder seen in babies born with abnormally small heads. It can lead to severe developmental issues and is deadly in some cases. There also appears to be a link between Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder, and the Zika virus.

If you are pregnant, you will want to avoid traveling to any one of the 23 countries affected by the virus. If you have traveled to these nations during your pregnancy, you should alert your OBGYN to ensure a closer review of your prenatal ultrasounds. Symptoms of the virus that any patient should look out for include: fever, rash, joint pain and pinkeye.

Mosquito protection measures are the only line of defense

When you are in nations where the Zika virus is a threat, you should take every possible step in mosquito protection. This will include using an EPA-approved mosquito repellant, sleeping under a mosquito net, and wearing protective clothing. The type of mosquito that carries the virus prefers the indoors to the outdoors, so taking steps to keep mosquitoes out of indoor areas is vital.

Zika could be soon seen in the United States

While the U.S. is currently not among the nations experiencing the local spread of the Zika virus, cases have been reported in travelers returning to the United States. Couple this with the fact that populations of the Aedes mosquito that carry the the virus are present across U.S. regions – where about 60% of the population lives – and you can see the potential for the disease to become a significant domestic threat if the right preventive measures aren’t put into place. Developing a vaccine would be one of the best ways to fight the virus, but because Zika previously wasn’t considered much of a public health threat, there hasn’t been extensive research done on the virus.

If you are preparing for foreign travel, and would like to speak with a medical provider before departing, remember that MeMD can help prepare you for your trip with travel medicine and online healthcare services accessible from anywhere in the world.