So far, news about the spread of Zika is encouraging, since no locally acquired cases of the disease have been reported in the U.S. However, 258 cases have been reported to date among travellers returning from Zika-prone areas. Of these cases, eighteen involve pregnant women and six include sexual transmission of the virus after infected travellers returned home.
But so far there have been no validated reports of Zika having been transmitted directly between two people by a mosquito in the U.S. (or in Canada)—though we should note that the mosquito season is just beginning as the warm, even hot, weather moves in.
So, although the Zika update is encouraging, we warn that you cannot let your guard down for a minute when planning travel to any part of the U.S.—particularly the hot and humid Southeast—from now through the onset of autumn.
To date, Florida has diagnosed 54 people with Zika virus disease (among returned travellers), and a state of emergency against the spread of the virus remains in effect in 12 counties—with more expected as an early summer appears to be moving in. Texas and other Gulf States are following the trend.
We repeat: in most cases infection by Zika is no big deal—only one in five infected victims feels any symptoms, and even then they are mild and only last only a few days. But the great threat is to pregnant women or those who might become so, who risk having newborns with microcephaly (abnormally small heads).
The CDC, World Health Organization, and Canada’s Public Health Agency (PHAC) have warned pregnant woman to avoid travel to areas that have experienced Zika outbreaks—now 30 countries in the Americas. We’re past the point of identifying those countries in which Zika has been reported: consider the entire Caribbean basin, Mexico and Central and South America as high-risk for Zika virus transmission. And consider mosquito defense measures mandatory.
The PHAC has further advised women who are trying to get pregnant to wait at least two months after their return from areas where Zika virus is circulating or has the potential to circulate before trying to conceive.
These developments should be of particular interest to Olympians or their partners planning travel to Brazil in August. We caution that Brazil is now in the midst of not only the Zika scare (it is ground zero for the microcephaly epidemic) but also massive anti-government demonstrations against President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor. On Sunday, March 13, an estimated three million Brazilians took to the streets to demand the president’s impeachment. And this political upheaval is likely to last for many months.
You need to be watchful of the situation on the ground in Rio and country-wide over the course of the summer if you’re planning travel to Brazil. Pesky mosquitos might not be your only concern.
We’ll keep you updated on developments as they occur. Stay with us, and if you have any questions about travel to high risk areas, be sure to send them along to the editor.