Worried about the Zika virus spoiling your summer vacation in the South?
Now that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has officially branded the mosquito-borne Zika virus as a cause of microcephaly, the threat level of this cycle of infection has returned to the front pages. And it’s likely to stay there over the summer.
So what should you do? Cancel your family vacation to Myrtle Beach, the Florida Panhandle, or the Bahamas? Or do you just load up on mosquito repellent and soldier on?
Start with some facts
You will not be infected by Zika from mosquitoes flying in Canada. The breed that carries the virus, Aedes aegypti, does not like Canada’s climate and prefers to stay in the southern half of the U.S., the Caribbean, Central America, and much of South America. So far, some 40 countries are known to be hosts to this mosquito species. But we should note that recent reports show the infection rates for Zika have slowed considerably in several Central and South American countries, suggesting control efforts may be working and the worst may be over for them—or at least abating. Nonetheless, you can’t let down your guard.
According to the CDC (and Canada’s PHAC), women who are pregnant or might become so are advised not to travel to Zika-prone areas, and to be especially careful to avoid any contact with mosquitoes while in these areas. That means using reliable repellents, covering exposed skin, and staying indoors during the dawn and dusk mosquito-biting frenzy periods.
To date, over 700 cases of Zika virus infections have been confirmed in the U.S., but virtually all of them originated while the victims were travelling abroad. None have been traced to infection by mosquitoes within the continental U.S. But in anticipation of mosquito activity during the hot, humid summer months, many southern states—including Florida and Texas—instituted strong anti-mosquito control measures months ago. There have, however, been a handful of reports of Zika being sexually transmitted from persons recently returned from affected areas to partners in the U.S.
Keep your perspective
Were the Zika virus not so conclusively linked to microcephaly, the latest “epidemic” would hardly rate as a major health threat. Remember: a bone fide infection in a man or a non-pregnant woman is of marginal concern, generating perhaps three or four days of light flu-like symptoms, usually not requiring much treatment beyond an aspirin and a little bed rest. In fact, 80 per cent of persons infected with the virus will notice no symptoms.
But for women of child-bearing age, the threat of microcephaly in their newborn is not a risk to undertake lightly. So if you’re in that demographic, follow the advice of the experts:
The PHAC also advises women wishing to get pregnant to wait at least two months after their return from countries where Zika virus is circulating before trying to conceive. And men who have travelled to a country with an ongoing Zika virus outbreak should use condoms with any partner who could become pregnant for six months after their return. The PHAC also recommends that men with a pregnant partner should use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy.
Keep abreast of the facts. Balance concern with common sense. And don’t panic.
Planning your travels? Do not forget your travel insurance.