HAMILTON COUNTY, TN – The CDC has issued a health and travel advisory for the recent Zika virus outbreak in the Caribbean and Central and South America (pronounced ZEE-kah). While that seems far away, Zika virus infections have been reported in travelers returning to the US. These imported cases may result in human-to-mosquito-to-human spread of the virus. Additionally, the virus has been linked with microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes. To date, there are no confirmed deaths. Severe illness requiring hospitalization is rare. Currently, there is no vaccine against Zika.
“The Health Department takes this alert seriously not only because you can contract the disease while visiting those regions, but you could also bring it back here and cause others to become infected,” claims Connie Buecker, Manager of Communicable Disease Services at the Health Department, “The good news is that, if you must travel, Zika can largely be prevented by protecting oneself against mosquito bites.”
The CDC travel advisory recommends that pregnant women or those trying to become pregnant postpone travel to the outbreak regions. The virus is linked with poor birth outcomes, including microcephaly and miscarriage. If you travel, take precautions to avoid mosquitos- use repellent, cover your body with clothing, and sleep in protected areas. About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill, therefore, it is possible that pregnant women can expose their unborn baby to the virus without themselves showing any symptoms. If you become sick within 1-2 weeks upon returning from these regions, contact your health care professional and inform them of your travels.
The virus is transmitted when an infected mosquito bites a human. Within 3-7 days the infected person may become sick. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes), as well as muscle pain and headache. If the sick person is bitten by a mosquito during this time, they can then infect that mosquito, which in turn can bite and infect other people. However, if the sick person is isolated from mosquitos, the virus will run its course and be less likely to infect future mosquitos, thereby preventing localized infections.
The Health Department’s International Travel Clinic offers comprehensive travel health guidance and a range of required/recommended overseas immunizations. Call us at (423) 209-8340, or visit us on the web at health.hamiltontn.org (Immunizations). More information about Zika can be found on the CDC’s Zika Virus website (cdc.gov/zika) and from the Pan American Health Organization (paho.org).