By Dr. Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The Zika virus is causing devastating birth defects in countries with outbreaks of the virus. It also causes bad pregnancy outcomes, like miscarriage and stillbirth, and can cause serious neurologic problems as well. Zika is a virus primarily spread through mosquito bites, but unlike other mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue, it can also be spread through sex.
Many people travel during the summer, whether to visit family and friends, to take a vacation, or for business. This summer, we urge people to consider the risks that travel may pose due to the growing spread of Zika, especially if you are or your partner is pregnant or trying to get pregnant. If you are planning to travel to a place where Zika is spreading, there are some important steps you should take during your trip and after you return.
If you are traveling abroad, first check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel page (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-information) to see if Zika is spreading in your planned destination. Zika virus is currently being spread in Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, and parts of Africa.
Because the virus can cause severe birth defects, CDC recommends that pregnant women do not travel to areas with Zika. If a pregnant woman must travel to an area with Zika, she should talk with her health care provider and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites. Pregnant women also should be tested upon return to the United States. Male partners of pregnant women should consider the possibility that they could infect their partners via sex if they become infected. Men who travel to areas where Zika is spreading should take appropriate steps to prevent mosquito bites and either use condoms correctly every time they have sex during the pregnancy.
Everyone should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites to avoid infection with Zika virus, and to prevent further spread of the virus. To prevent mosquito bites, follow these precautions for at least three weeks after you return from travel::
- Wear Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent on exposed skin, at all times
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts
- If you can, stay in air conditioned or screened-in rooms
The symptoms of Zika include a fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. However, most people infected with Zika never have any symptoms, so do not assume you are not infected if you do not feel sick. We urge everyone to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites and to prevent the spread of Zika virus via sex.
CDC recommends that women who have traveled to a country with Zika transmission wait at least eight weeks after returning home before trying to become pregnant, whether they have symptoms or not. Men who have traveled to areas where Zika is actively spreading and did not develop symptoms of Zika virus infection should use a condom or abstain from sex for at least eight weeks after returning from travel. Men who traveled to a country with Zika transmission and had Zika symptoms should consider using condoms or not having sex for at least six months after the symptoms began.
Women who do not want to or are not planning to become pregnant should talk with their healthcare providers about the many kinds of contraception available to prevent unintended pregnancy. As a mother and grandmother, I take the health effects of Zika very, very seriously. The effects of Zika virus infection can be devastating. Knowing what to do to protect yourself from Zika will help you safely enjoy your trip abroad, and can help prevent Zika from spreading in the continental United States.
To keep up with the latest information about Zika and what it means for your family’s health, visit www.cdc.gov/zika.