With the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil kicking off this week, there is a lot more talk about the Zika virus and the risk to athletes, journalists and spectators traveling to Brazil. Here is the latest information on what we know and some tips if you’re traveling to any of the areas where the Zika virus is known to exist. (See the list of countries here)
More than 1,300 people have been diagnosed with Zika in the United States, including nearly 350 pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly all of the cases have been related to an affected person traveling to an area where the Zika virus is known to exist; however, it was just announced that several people were infected by mosquitos in Florida. Twenty one cases have been diagnosed in Minnesota and nine in Wisconsin.
Here are some common questions about the virus and what to do if you’re traveling to one of the 48 countries and territories where the outbreak is currently occurring:
What is the Zika virus?
The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted virus related to Dengue and Yellow Fever. It was discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947 and there have been outbreaks in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. It was most recently recognized in Brazil in May 2015 and has since been found in many countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean.
How do you know if you have it?
Zika is spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes species, which usually bite during the day. It can also transmitted sexually from an infected man or woman, and be spread from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth.
Many people infected with Zika won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms, usually within two weeks of returning from an area where Zika virus is present. The virus usually causes mild fever, rash, joint pain, and red, irritated eyes. The incubation period is three to 12 days, and symptoms usually go away after about a week.
Is it curable?
There is currently no antiviral medication to treat Zika virus; however, the CDC recently requested funding from Congress to develop a vaccine, among other things. Treatment is supportive and includes rest, fluids, and medications to treat achiness or fever.
Why is Zika so dangerous for pregnant women?
The Zika virus has been linked to birth defects in infants, most notably microcephaly, which is characterized by an abnormally small head and brain and often leads to significant developmental issues. The CDC continues to recommend that pregnant women in any trimester and any women trying to become pregnant consider postponing travel to affected countries. (See the list of countries here)
Could I get Zika from a mosquito in Minnesota?
Only a handful of people infected with Zika in the United States have gotten it from a mosquito bite here; the vast majority had recently traveled to an area of the world where Zika is known to be spreading or had sexual contact with someone who recently traveled. The risk of being infected with Zika from a Minnesota mosquito is extremely low because the type of mosquito known to carry the virus does not generally travel this far north.
If I’m traveling to Brazil or another affected country, what should I know?
The risk of Zika virus, for most people, is similar to the risk of Dengue fever or Chikungunya. The only way to prevent infection is to prevent mosquito bites. The HealthPartners Travel & Tropical Medicine Clinic can discuss enhanced precautions with you to avoid insect bites, which prevent all diseases carried by insects. Unfortunately, no option is 100 percent effective.
The situation is changing daily; however, right now women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant are discouraged from traveling to areas known to have the virus. At the travel clinic, we will investigate the specific destination and discuss the risk of travel, as well as avoidance.
Additionally, since Zika is known to be spread through sexual contact, be smart. The only 100 percent effective method to prevent sexually transmitted infections – including Zika – is abstinence from sexual contact. If you do have a new sexual partner, protect yourself by using a barrier method like a condom.
Additional information about Zika can be found on the CDC’s website. The CDC has also created a webpage specifically for people traveling to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.