If you’ve been paying attention to the recent headlines, you most likely know that the Zika virus has become a problem. If you’re traveling to a country affected by it, this may be more than a little worrisome. What is it exactly, and do you need to cancel your future travel plans?
What is it?
The Zika virus was first documented in 1947 in a monkey from the forests of Uganda. It’s transmittable by Aedes mosquitoes, which can infect humans. A documented case didn’t appear again until the spring of 2015 in Brazil.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms are generally mild and not noticeable by many people who are infected. This includes fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The symptoms only last as long as the virus is in the blood, which can be anywhere from several days to one week.
Should you be concerned?
The primary concern is for pregnant women. Zika can cause neurological problems and birth defects. Microcephaly was present in babies who’s mothers had the virus when they were pregnant. While the link has yet to be officially confirmed, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency due to the increased cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly.
How can you protect yourself?
Protecting yourself against mosquitos is your best bet for not becoming infected. This includes being vigilant about applying mosquito repellent, avoiding mosquito breeding grounds such as still water, and sleeping indoors with mosquito nets. Wearing dark clothing can also attract mosquitos more than light clothing.
If you’re traveling to Latin America, South America, the Caribbean, or the Pacific Islands, it’s important to be aware of the virus. It doesn’t mean you necessarily need to cancel your plans, but take extra precautions to protect yourself against mosquitos, and pick a travel insurance that will help you get treatment immediately. If you’re pregnant and planned on going on a trip where you’ll spend a good amount of time outside, you might consider delaying your trip or changing locations for the time being. There’s currently no vaccine, so protection is the most important step you can take in the fight against the Zika virus.