With spring break in full swing and as many Texas A&M University-Commerce students, faculty and staff prepare to travel abroad—on school-related trips or personal vacations—we want to share important information about the Zika virus, an illness that could impact an estimated 4 million people over the next year.
Currently circulating through South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, the Zika virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. However, spread of the virus through sexual contact has also been shown.
While the greatest risk is to pregnant women or those who may become pregnant, due to a possible association with microcephaly—a birth defect that results in incomplete brain development in infants—anyone can contract Zika.
Symptoms of Zika are usually mild—causing fever, rash, red eyes and joint pain—and are only reported by one in five of the people who develop the virus. A majority of cases are asymptomatic. Severe illness is rare, however, several cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition in which the immune system attacks the body’s own nerve cells and causes paralysis, have been reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued travel guidelines for pregnant women, warning them to avoid visiting places where the Zika virus is spreading. For everyone else, there are no existing travel warnings, but the CDC recommends enhanced precautions to minimize your risk of infection and inadvertently carrying the virus back to the U.S.
With no vaccine, the best way to prevent Zika is to avoid mosquito bites. If you will be traveling to countries where Zika outbreaks have been reported, practice the following preventive measures:
- Use an insect repellent containing either 25% DEET or 20% Picaridin (remember to apply sunscreen before repellent)
- Wear light-colored clothing (mosquitoes are more attracted to darker colors because they retain more heat)
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin, a chemical used as an insecticide
- Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens
- Sleep under a mosquito net if your bedroom is exposed to the outdoors
Remember, if you have Zika, a mosquito that bites you can become infected and spread the virus to others, and while the virus is not currently spreading in Texas, the mosquito that carries the virus lives in this region. If you contract Zika, consult with your health care provider and continue to take the above precautions.
Additionally, because of the possible transmission of the virus through sexual contact, the use of birth control is more important than ever. The CDC recommends the use of condoms both during and after travel to an area where outbreaks of the virus have been reported.
We want everyone to have a safe, relaxing and uneventful spring break—one that does not include sickness.
For more information on the Zika virus, an up-to-date look at current areas where Zika is being reported and travel tips, visit vitalrecord.tamhsc.edu/zika360/.