Preventing Zika: Advice for Travelers
There have been ongoing concerns about the spread of Zika virus to various countries. And while Zika is only considered a mild disease and is less serious than Dengue, unwanted (serious) consequences such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, may still arise and it is important for travelers who are jumping from one country to another, to take certain precautions.
After all, prevention is still better than cure, especially in cases like this where there are still no vaccine nor drug available to prevent Zika virus infection.
Taking precaution during the day
Aedes mosquitoes, most commonly Aedesaegypti, transmit Zika as well as diseases such as chikungunya, dengue, and yellow fever. Aedes mosquitoes predominantly bite during the day, but especially during mid-morning and late afternoon to dusk (as opposed to mosquitoes that transmit malaria, which bite at night between dusk and dawn).
It is important that all travelers visiting affected areas continue to take protective measures to prevent mosquito bites throughout the day such as wearing protective clothing, repellents, and bed-nets where necessary.Anyone who is bitten by an infected mosquito is potentially at risk of infection.
Preventing sexual transmission
There is very limited scientific evidence to suggest the virus can be sexually transmitted. The overall risk of sexual transmission of Zika virus is considered to be low, but the number of reports is increasing.
However, the best way to reduce the possibility of sexual transmission of the virus, or the possibility of becoming pregnant while infected with Zika virus, is to avoid sex or use condoms.
All men who have travelled to a Zika-affected area should avoid sex or use condoms, even if they do not have symptoms.Only one in five people who get the Zika infection will show symptoms, so it’s possible to have the infection and not know it.
- If the partner is pregnant, the male should abstain from sexual activity or use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy.
- If the partner is at risk of becoming pregnant, the male should abstain from sexual activity or use condoms for at least six months after leaving a Zika-affected area.
There is only limited evidence available at this time about how long one should abstain from sex or use condoms and international advice varies. Initial research has found Zika virus present in semen at least two months after infection develops. However how infectious the virus remains and how long it can possibly stay in the semen is not known. Until more information on the duration of sexual transmission becomes available, male travelers should use condoms or abstain from sexual activity for at least six months after leaving a Zika-affected area.
Precautions for pregnant women
Zika virus infection may present an increased risk of complications for certain groups of the population, particularly pregnant women.Before booking travel, pregnant women and women planning pregnancy within 8 weeks following travel should check the Zika risk for their destination and consider any travel advisories.
Specific Zika risk based travel advice has been developed for pregnant women and their male partners. Specific recommendations regarding travel have also been developed for women planning pregnancy within 8 weeks following travel.
For those traveling to high and moderate risk countries, pregnant women are advised to postpone non-essential travel until after pregnancy. All pregnant women planning to travel should seek advice from their healthcare provider 4 to 6 weeks before travel for an individual risk assessment.
On the other hand, for those traveling to low and very low risk countries, there is no Zika specific advisory. All pregnant women planning to travel should seek advice from their healthcare provider 4 to 6 weeks before travel for an individual risk assessment and to discuss the low risk.
Pregnant travelers should receive advice on the thorough use of mosquito bite avoidance measures both during daytime and night time hours (but especially during mid-morning and late afternoon to dusk, when the mosquito is most active).