Zika virus: What you should know

Member Services
January 25, 2016
Categories: Alerts, Health

With the Zika virus making headlines recently, it is no surprise that travelers are seeking information. To date, the virus has spread to several countries and territories in South and Central America and the Caribbean. There have been a small number of positive tests confirmed in the U.S., and in each case the patient or mother is believed to have picked up the virus abroad.

Global Rescue’s Medical Operations personnel answered some frequently asked questions regarding the Zika virus.

How does someone become infected with the Zika virus?

Zika virus disease is an acute viral illness of humans transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes-species mosquito that has previously fed on a person infected with the Zika virus. There is also emerging evidence to suggest maternal – fetal transmission also may occur near the time of delivery, or late in pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of the Zika virus?

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.

What is the risk for pregnant women? 

Women who are infected with the Zika virus who are pregnant, or become pregnant, are at an increased risk of birth defects – including microcephaly, an abnormal smallness of a newborn’s head associated with incomplete neurological development.

What advice is there for pregnant women regarding Zika?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a list of countries with past or current Zika virus activity here. Their current guidance specifically notes, “… Until more is known, and out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant.” The CDC further advises women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, “should consult with their health care provider before traveling to these areas.”

Travelers who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider and determine the level of risk for microcephaly or other birth defects that they are willing to assume by traveling to areas with confirmed Zika virus disease activity (or adjacent locations).

How can I protect myself against the Zika virus?

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus disease, and no medication available to treat Zika virus infection. 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. 

Prevention techniques may include:

--Using insect repellents containing either DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or certain oil of lemon-eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol products.

-- Application of sunscreen first and then insect repellent. (Always follow the label instructions when using insect repellent or sunscreen.)

--Treating 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 bed net.

-- Reduce the number of mosquitoes inside and outside by emptying standing water from containers, such as flowerpots or buckets.

What are the origins of the Zika virus?

The Zika virus was discovered in 1947 in Zika Forest, Uganda. The virus was found to be present in Uganda’s Rhesus monkey population and the Aedes africanus mosquito.The first humans infected with Zika virus disease were reported in 1954 in Nigeria. The virus remained endemic to parts of Africa and Asia, until an outbreak on Yap Island in the South Pacific in 2013. Other Pacific Islands including New Caledonia, Cook Islands, and Easter Island have reported outbreaks of ZVD.

In October 2015 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published reports from the Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil which confirmed cases of Zika virus disease in Camaçari, Bahia, Brazil. Further reports from Brazil in May 2015 reported that pregnant women who became infected with Zika virus disease had an increased risk of birth defects such as microcephaly.

Oahu, Hawaii, USA reported the first case of ZVD-related microcephaly in the United States. The infant’s mother had lived in Brazil during her pregnancy and the infant was likely infected within the womb, as hypothesized by both Hawaiian Department of Health officials and the U.S.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Questions about the Zika virus? Contact Global Rescue at 617-459-4200 or Operations@globalrescue.com.


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