As news stories about the spread of the Zika virus begin to recede, many people are still concerned about whether they should travel to those areas that have reported cases of the virus. Whether you’re living in or planning travel to an affected country, here’s the top five things you need to know.
1) Assess the risk before you travel
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), since 2015, 70 countries and territories around the world have reported evidence of Zika virus transmission. Parts of Asia, the Americas and the Pacific Islands have seen a particularly high number of reported cases.
The prevalence of Zika varies by country, so the risk of infection is greater in some parts of the world than others. Before planning any travel or a move abroad you should consider the level of risk – organisations such as the WHO or European Centre for Disease Control provide useful updates on the level of risk by country.
You can still travel to Zika affected areas but it’s important to assess the risk factors and take the necessary precautions. As with all travel, it’s also important to ensure you have appropriate health insurance in case the worst happens and you do get sick while you’re away.
2) Prevention is key
As with all disease, prevention is better than cure. There is currently no vaccine or medicine available for Zika, so the best approach is to take appropriate measures to prevent infection.
Mosquitos are the primary transmitter of the infection, so if you are living in or travelling to an affected area, the best approach is to wear long sleeves and cover your legs, use a good quality insect repellent, and if possible stay in places with air conditioning, door screens or mosquito nets.
3) Beware the hidden virus
The symptoms of Zika virus are often only mild, such as fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, and many infected with the virus don’t display any symptoms at all. It’s therefore possible for someone to be unaware that they’ve had the virus, although they can still pass it on to others after the initial infection.
If you are returning from travel to a Zika affected country, it’s therefore important to take precautions to prevent onward transmission in the first few weeks, even if you don’t feel unwell. This includes continuing to avoid mosquito bites and practicing safe sex, especially if you are planning to have a family in the near future.
4) Don’t reach for the aspirin!
If you feel unwell and are living in or have recently visited a Zika affected area, consult your doctor immediately. A simple urine or blood test is often sufficient to detect whether you have the virus or not.
You should also avoid taking aspirin or any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen until you’ve seen the doctor, as these drugs could result in bleeding if you have a related illness such as Dengue fever, which has very similar symptoms to Zika.
5) Take precautions if planning for a family
The biggest concern with Zika is the potential impact on unborn babies. If a pregnant women is infected, the virus can cause serious birth defects such as microcephaly which affects the brain. There have also been reports that the virus can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare nervous system disorder, although the WHO is still investigating whether there is a direct link.
If you are pregnant or trying for a baby, the advice is not to travel or to avoid nonessential trips to Zika affected areas. If travel is unavoidable, you should consult a healthcare professional for detailed advice before you leave.
Whilst the number of Zika cases reported in many countries is now on the decline, it’s important to be aware of the risk factors when considering a move or travel to an affected area. Ultimately the key is to take the necessary precautions both before, during and after your travel, to keep you and your family healthy.