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Living Well

Zika: Travel Update

Last updated: Aug 25, 2016

MosquitoAs the Zika virus continues to make headlines around the world, you may be wondering if you are at risk for contracting an insect-transmitted illness this summer. If you are traveling to the Caribbean islands, Central or South America, Africa, or Southeast Asia/Pacific Islands where diseases like Zika are endemic the answer is yes.  In addition, the CDC reports that mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have been found  in two areas of Miami-Dade County in Florida. 

“Individuals who are traveling to Florida need to be more concerned about protecting themselves, especially with Zika virus,” says Daniel Hart, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Summit Medical Group. 

“At this point, we do not tell the general traveler to change their plans because of Zika. The only group we strongly advise abstain from visiting Zika endemic areas are women who are pregnant or couples planning to become pregnant because the virus has been associated with birth defects.”

People who are infected usually develop mild illness for up to a week and experience symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. There have been more than 1,000 travel-associated cases of Zika reported in the United States. Currently, there is no vaccine or medication available for Zika.

What We Know About Zika Transmission

  • Zika is most threatening for pregnant women or those who are trying to conceive. If Zika is contracted during pregnancy it can cause serious birth defects, most commonly a condition known as microcephaly that causes small head size and brain damage.
  • There have not been any cases of Zika being transmitted through breastfeeding.
  • Zika is the only mosquito-borne illness that can be sexually transmitted from person to person. Men can spread Zika through sexual contact even if they do not have symptoms. The virus can live in semen longer than blood.

“Men who have been infected may not develop symptoms, but they can still potentially transmit the virus through sex,” explains Dr. Hart. “The CDC guidelines recommend that men who travel to Zika endemic areas use condoms or abstain from sex for at least eight weeks if they do not have symptoms; and for at least six months if they do have symptoms.”

  • Women can also transmit the virus through sexual contact. The first case of female-to-male transmission was reported in New York City in July 2016.
  • Zika can be spread through a blood transfusion or laboratory exposure to blood.

Can Zika Travel to New Jersey?

Currently, mosquitos carrying Zika have been found in the U.S., in parts of Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Dr. Hart urges travelers who are concerned about insect-transmitted illnesses to come in for a counseling appointment, or call the 24-Hour Zika Center at the New Jersey Department of Health at 1-800-962-1253.

Other Insect-Transmitted Diseases

Zika is not the only virus that puts you at risk when you go abroad. Dr. Hart urges travelers to report any unusual symptoms to a physician immediately.

Malaria

  • Found primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa, there were 214 million cases of malaria reported in 2015.
  • The life-threatening disease, which causes fever, headache, chills, and vomiting, is both preventable and curable with the proper medications.
  • If you are traveling to Africa or Southeast Asia, visit your physician at least two weeks before your trip. They will decide if you should start a regime of anti-malaria drugs.

Yellow Fever

  • Individuals traveling to tropical areas such as Africa and Central and South America can build up to 99 percent immunity against yellow fever if they receive the vaccine at least two weeks prior to travel.
  • The illness causes headache, backache, chills, vomiting, and jaundice in more severe cases.

Chikungunya virus

  • Characterized by severe joint pain and an abrupt onset of fever, this disease appears primarily Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. While symptoms can last for several months, most people experience moderate illness and recover fully.
  • In 2014, the virus was found for the first time in Florida, and then two years later in Texas. There are an average of 28 cases identified each year in the United States.

References

1.    Interview with Daniel Hart, MD, SMG infectious disease specialist (6/3/16)
2.    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Zika Virus.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 6 July 2016. Web. 10 June 2016. 
3.    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Zika and Sexual Transmission.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1 July 2016. Web. 10 June 2016. 
4.    World Health Organization. “Malaria.” World Health Organization. Web. 12 June 2016.
5.    World Health Organization. “Yellow Fever.”  World Health Organization. Web. 12 June 2016. 
6.    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Chikungunya.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 16 Nov 2015. Web. 12 June 2016. 

 

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