Bitten by the ‘travel bug’ this summer? Don’t let Zika virus be a buzzkill
It’s summertime, and during this time of year, many students are bitten by the international travel bug. Whether you are jet-setting during summer or exploring a new country while studying abroad, here’s what you need to know about repelling a much more harmful bug: the Zika virus and its carrier, the Aedes mosquito.
You don’t have to cancel your travel plans (unless you are pregnant)
Does contracting Zika make you think twice about traveling? It should, but not in the sense that you need to cancel plans and hole up in a bunker. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends practicing enhanced precautions—in the form of preventing mosquito bites—if you decide to travel to areas where Zika is circulating: Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Miami, Florida and Puerto Rico.
However, if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, the CDC strongly advises postponing travel to any area where Zika is spreading. This is because the virus can be transmitted to your unborn baby and possibly cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly (when a baby is born with a smaller-than-normal head because the brain has stopped developing properly).
Please keep in mind that 50 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, and if you’re planning to visit a country where Zika is being spread, birth control is even more important than usual, both before your trip and for several weeks after your return.
Don’t be a carrier! Fight the bite
While Zika poses the greatest risk to a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, anyone can get the virus, and the way it’s transmitted is quite simple:
A mosquito bites an infected person. The mosquito then becomes a carrier. The infected mosquito bites you. You also become infected AND a carrier—with the potential to bring the disease back home. Remember, the Aedes mosquito is an aggressive daytime biter, but can also bite at night.
So, it doesn’t really matter if your travel style is geared toward tanning and relaxation, or hiking and exploring, avoiding mosquito bites is the most important method of prevention. Here’s how you can zap mosquitoes in their tracks:
- Cover exposed skin with long-sleeves and pants
- Wear light-colored clothing (mosquitoes like dark colors)
- Use an insect repellent containing 25% DEET or 20% Picaridin
- Apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second
- Consider permethrin-treated clothing and gear (or treat them yourself)
- Check that your hotel room has screened-in or air-conditioned rooms
- Sleep under a mosquito net if your bedroom is exposed to the outdoors
Zika is an STD
In addition to being transmitted via mosquitoes, Zika can also be spread through sexual contact. Current evidence suggests it is most commonly spread from males to females, but it can go from females to males too. Condoms do seem to provide protection, so they should be used, especially if one partner is or could be pregnant.
If you experience any common symptoms of Zika (fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes) don’t hesitate to contact your health care provider.