The Zika virus has spread to many popular spring break destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. What’s a college student to do?

The Zika threat can be minimized if students are prepared to recognize the risk, adjust their lifestyle and routines, and follow simple, sensible precautions, according to Global Rescue medical experts. Here’s more advice for students on spring break.

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus is an acute viral illness transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes-species mosquito that has previously fed on a person infected with the Zika virus. The virus is suspected to cause birth defects and a rare condition of temporary paralysis. Women who are infected with the Zika virus while pregnant, or who become pregnant while the virus is still in their bloodstream, are at an increased risk of birth defects.  

Symptoms include sudden fever with rash, joint and body pain, headache and conjunctivitis. Symptoms are usually mild and last from several days to a week. Approximately 1 in 5 people infected with the Zika virus will develop symptoms.

Global Rescue medical operations personnel offer these five tips to help minimize the effects of the Zika virus during spring break:

ONE: Focus on preventing bites

Prevention of bites by infected Aedes mosquitos is the only effective means of avoiding infection while traveling in regions where the Zika virus is present. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus disease, and no medication available to treat Zika virus infection. 

Prevention techniques:

  • Use insect repellents containing either DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or certain oil of lemon-eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol products.
  • Apply sunscreen first and then insect repellent. (Always follow the label instructions when using insect repellent or sunscreen.)
  • Treat clothing with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated clothing.
  • When weather permits, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Use air-conditioning, and window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside. If you are not able to protect yourself from mosquitoes inside your local accommodations, sleep under a mosquito net.
  • Reduce the number of mosquitoes inside and outside by emptying standing water from containers, such as flowerpots or buckets.
  • The mosquito that transmits Zika virus bites during the day, especially early morning and dusk, so stay indoors during those times if possible.

TWO: Practice safe sex

In addition to mosquito-to-human transmission, there is emerging evidence that suggests Zika is gaining access to other fluids, including semen, and can be transmitted from human-to-human via sexual intercourse. Studies are finding Zika can remain in blood, urine and semen for days, even months.

Sexual transmission of Zika virus from a male partner is possible. Condoms should be used by the male during every sexual encounter to help prevent Zika, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. According to the CDC, men returning from Zika-infected areas should use condoms or abstain from sex with a pregnant sex partner for the duration of their partner’s pregnancy.

THREE: Treat effectively

Take medication such as acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain. Do not take aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen. Get plenty of rest and keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.

FOUR: Watch alcohol intake

Binge drinking can lead to alcohol-related rape and sexual assault, confusion, unconsciousness, seizures, vomiting and the risk of death because of inability to breath. Avoid overconsumption of alcohol; the related decreased level of consciousness will impair judgment and ability to rationally make decisions related to the recommended Zika prevention techniques. Maintain situational awareness of your surroundings.

FIVE: Research before you go

Be familiar with health concerns relevant to your destination. Visit the CDC website for travel alerts and warnings.

The Global Rescue Mobile App provides information and resources necessary to ensure travelers’ health, safety and security. The app also offers comprehensive details to help travelers prepare in advance and to stay informed once they have arrived at their destination. Travelers can view information by filters including environment, health, infrastructure, unrest and violence.