Travel Warning: Zika Virus Invades The Americas

If you or someone you know is planning to travel to the Caribbean, Mexico, or Central or South America, you need to be aware that a locally transmitted case of a newly detected mosquito-borne virus has recently been reported in Puerto Rico and Mexico, raising concerns that it could soon make its way to South Florida and South Texas.

Outbreaks of the Zika virus had been previously reported in Africa, Asia, and the Oceania–Pacific regions. However, in December 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reported confirmed cases of Zika infections in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela. Locally transmitted means mosquitos in these areas have been infected with the virus and are spreading it to humans.

Now let’s make one thing clear: the Zika virus is no Ebola or SARS. So far, the virus has not been linked to any recorded fatalities in the Americas. According to PAHO, symptoms usually include mild fever, rash, headaches, joint and muscle pain, asthenia (weakness), and non-purulent conjunctivitis. These symptoms usually occur three to twelve days after the mosquito vector bite. Moreover, one out of four infected people may not develop symptoms, and those affected by the disease usually experience only mild symptoms lasting between two and seven days. Its clinical manifestation is often similar to dengue, a mosquito-borne illness related to Zika.

The biggest threat, however, is to women of child-bearing age, particularly if they are infected during the earliest part of their pregnancy (the first trimester). In Brazil, the Ministry of Health recently raised concerns about a possible link between Zika virus infection and a rapidly increasing number of babies born with abnormally small heads and microcephaly (underdeveloped brains).

On December 16, 2015, Canada’s Public Health Agency raised a public alert about the detection of the Zika virus in Mexico and Puerto Rico and emphasized that pregnant women travelling to these areas follow strict mosquito-bite-prevention measures. At present, there is no vaccine or medication that protects against the virus.

Given the swift spread of this virus into the Americas, we would recommend that pregnant women be particularly vigilant if travelling not only to the areas already affected but also to any tropical or subtropical regions of North, Central, or South America.

Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, puts it this way: “I think the Zika virus is going to be knocking on the doorstep in places like Florida and Texas probably in the spring or summer. It is spreading really fast.”

 

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